The City of Findlay lost a federal lawsuit to the anti-abortion group Missionaries to the Preborn that had been asked to stop a protest held near a busy intersection in July 2007. The judge found the city’s permit requirements to be unconstitutional. The group, which numbered about 60 people, showed photographs of aborted fetuses.
After many complaints the police department told the group to disperse saying they didn’t have an event permit. At the time it was said the permit had to be obtained 30 days in advance and could only be approved by the Mayor or safety director. Reports noted in the Courier in its reporting on August 7th said:
[Mayor] Iriti said the decision to ask the group to leave was related to public safety only. “Folks were in the right of way, bringing harm to themselves and others,” Iriti said Monday. “It has nothing to do with content. It was simply related to the time, place and manner (in which the message was delivered),” Iriti said.
[Assistant Law Director Donald] Rasmussen said no federal laws have been broken. “The issue was a violation of local law,” he said. “It had nothing to do with the First Amendment at all. It was about blocking ingress and egress to businesses, blocking traffic … walking out into the street, and we’re always concerned with those things.”
Pro-life group files suit against city after being told to disperse last week (published 08/07/2007)
Rasmussen also noted to the Courier that there was no permit requirement in place and the group was allowed to protest on August 11th.
Missionaries to the Preborn however kept the lawsuit going after the city refused to pay attorney fees related to the filing.
I wanted to read the text of the court decision because I am interested in these kinds of cases, but the court doesn’t release them electronically for 90 days. The reason I want to read the transcript is because the reporting in the Courier of the city side of the case seems a bit unbelievable. Either there was an informal permit policy in place or Findlay Police Chief Bill Spraw lied to the group. Cities can and do have a need to regulate actions when those actions can cause issues of safety but those policies have to be applied equally to all groups or events and be content neutral (although I will note that some content is not allowed – like sex acts for example).
I really don’t care about the group’s message, even if I don’t agree with it, but they should have the right to express that message as long as they aren’t causing safety issues – like a riot or something like that.