Is Free Speech Still Legal? Updated.

Apparently not for pro-lifers.

Two recent reports confirm what we have long suspected — the Constitution, especially the First Amendment guarantees of the right to free speech and peaceful assembly, don’t apply to pro-lifers.

In Birmingham, Alabama, recently, some pro-lifers decided to pass out literature outside a high school, on the public sidewalk. They also held up signs and spoke to students. When asked to leave the area by a security guard, they exercised their right to say “no”, and carried on. Then the police showed up, arrested them, and hauled them off to the station. Held in custody overnight, they were told that the sidewalk was not public property for “non-citizens of Birmingham.” When they were finally released — the next morning, after a night in the holding cells — they were actually charged with the crime of trespassing.

Yes, trespassing on the public sidewalk. Shades of Bull Connor, the notorious police chief of Birmingham in the 1960’s, who sicced the dogs and turned the fire hoses against the “outside agitators” like Rev. Martin Luther King who came to protest civil rights violations in that city.

Meanwhile, in Oakland, California, an African-American minister will be sentenced to day after his conviction for violating that city’s clinic access law. That law prohibits anyone, within a 100-foot zone around an abortion clinic, from approaching within 8 feet of a person to speak to them or offer them literature, without that person’s consent. In other words, the reverend committed the offense of speaking to people in public, and offering them literature. Quite a threat to public safety, that.

This is nothing new. Cities and states have been passing these laws for decades, all directed at only one kind of speech that they deem unwelcome and unworthy of protection — pro-life speech. The courts, including the Supreme Court, have turned a blind eye to the Constitution and upheld these laws, regardless of the history and traditions of our nation. Our City Council is getting ready to pass yet another of these laws, an unconstitutionally vague collection of terms like “harass” and “interfere” that are designed to intimidate pro-lifers into silence, out of fear of being treated like our brethren in Oakland and Birmingham.

Let’s try a thought experiment. We New Yorkers are familiar with the protests around Manhattan where the Laborer’s Union sets up a giant inflatable rat outside of non-union worksites, and then hands out flyers to everyone passing by. Their goal is to try to shame the builders into signing a contract with the union, and they offer the flyers to everyone, whether they consent to it or not. Nobody thinks twice about the legality of this kind of behavior. It’s typical American democracy.

Now, just try to imagine anyone passing a law that would prohibit the Laborers from approaching passers by and giving them literature. Go ahead, try to pass that kind of law. I dare you.

The sad fact of life in our nation is that some people’s speech is more protected than others, and unpopular kinds of speech will not be tolerated. Pro-lifers, especially disciples of Jesus Christ, continue to learn this the hard way, and suffer for it.

This is nothing new. As St. Paul wrote to St. Timothy, “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12).

UPDATE: On February 19, the pastor in Oakland was sentenced to 30 days in jail, fined $1,130, and placed on probation for three years. You read that right — 30 days in jail and a huge fine for handing out leaflets and holding a sign. In America.

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