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Can cities censor public speech so that the messaging seen in public is aligned with a political party holding an event there?
That’s essentially the question that is being put to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The American Freedom Law Center is asking the court to review a First Amendment dispute that arose when the city of Detroit and its police officers imposed various restrictions in 2019 when the Democrat Party was holding a presidential debate at Fox Theater.
The case, in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan on behalf of Created Equal and its Founder Mark Harrington, charges the city and police violated the pro-lifers’ fundamental rights protected by the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
“More specifically, during the two days of the debates (July 30 & 31), the city imposed draconian restrictions that prevented anyone with a message that conflicted with the policies of the Democratic Party candidates, particularly messages that conflicted with the candidates’ radical pro-abortion policies, from reaching the debate participants and attendees,” the legal team revealed.
The case itself charges: “The city created and enforced an overbroad and unreasonable ‘restricted area’ that prevented the pro-lifers from engaging in free speech activity in traditional public forums. The restriction was not narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest, and it did not leave open ample alternative channels of communications to permit the pro-lifers to reach their intended audiences with their message.”
Further, police then “enforced the city’s unlawful speech restriction by (1) dividing protestors based on the content and viewpoint of their message, (2) designating the areas that speakers were permitted to engage in their free speech activity based on the content and viewpoint of their message, and (3) giving a favorable location to those speakers who supported the views of the Democratic presidential candidates and an unfavorable location to those, including the pro-lifers, who opposed the views of the candidates.”
The result was that pro-life messages were concealed from the candidates and those attending.
WND reported when the case developed that a lawyer working on the case explained, “It is a right to meaningfully express one’s message in order to influence public opinion and to affect public policy. Not surprisingly, the liberal city of Detroit imposed restrictions that had the intended effect of sanitizing and cleansing the areas immediately in front of and adjacent to the Fox Theater of any messages that were critical of the Democrat presidential candidates and the positions and policies they supported.”
AFLC explained at the time: “At one point, Mark Harrington and the pro-lifers attempted to get as close to the Fox Theater as possible without breaching the city’s overbroad ‘restricted area’ by crossing a church parking lot that was being used by multiple media outlets and other protestors. Despite the fact that others were permitted on this property, city police officers stopped Harrington and his colleagues and told them to leave. When Harrington protested, city police officers seized him and put him in handcuffs.”
The officers had no probable cause or any other “lawful authority” for seizing him, AFLC said.
“This seizure was an obvious effort to intimidate the pro-lifers into compliance with the city’s unlawful speech restrictions.”
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