During the COVID-19 outbreak, many people have gone out of their way to care for their neighbors and protect the most vulnerable among us.
That’s exactly what Pastor Isaiah Burner, a volunteer with pro-life ministry Love Life, was doing when he went to walk and pray outside of an abortion clinic in Greensboro, North Carolina. He took extra care to comply with social distancing guidelines and sanitize his hands. As he walked, he prayed for one of the most vulnerable populations in our society—the unborn.
That day, he also spent close to an hour counseling and ministering to a father who was grieving the loss of his child through abortion.
But shortly after that conversation, Pastor Burner was ticketed by the police. Other pro-life Christian witnesses with Love Life were even arrested!
That’s why Alliance Defending Freedom stepped in. Let’s take a closer look at this situation and the resulting lawsuit.
Who: Love Life
Love Life is a faith-based nonprofit that provides a prayerful Christian witness outside of abortion clinics. Their staff and volunteers participate in prayer walks outside of the abortion clinics, interceding for the unborn and their mothers through prayer. They are a peaceful presence standing for the truth and providing a voice for the voiceless.
Love Life representatives also stand by ready to offer spiritual and emotional counseling to pregnant mothers, and to connect women with material resources needed to help welcome their babies into the world.
At the end of March, Guilford County issued a “stay-at-home” order in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, putting a stop to gatherings of more than ten people as well as to “non-essential” activities.
Under the order, there are exceptions for “essential activities,” including all sorts of outdoor activities, like going to a public park, hiking, walking, and even golfing. There are also exceptions for “essential businesses and operations,” including nonprofit organizations providing social services to vulnerable people.
Love Life’s activities should fit squarely under those exceptions. So, they continued prayer walks outside of a local abortion clinic in Greensboro, which has also been allowed to continue operating in the wake of the coronavirus. These volunteers took extra precautions to comply with the order: They had fewer than 10 people gathered at one time, stayed at least six feet apart from one another, and were equipped with hand sanitizer.
Despite this, some of these volunteers were given citations and others were even arrested!
The city claimed that these Love Life volunteers were arrested because they traveled by car rather than on foot and because they traveled from outside the county. But those prohibitions are nowhere to be found in the stay-at-home order.
ADF supports the government’s efforts to prioritize the public’s health and safety. But if abortion clinics can stay open during the pandemic, Christians should be allowed to pray outside—especially if they are abiding by health and safety guidelines.
It seems the government doesn’t like what these pro-life Christian witnesses have to say, so it’s using COVID-19 as an excuse to silence them. That’s why ADF filed a lawsuit on behalf of Love Life and its volunteers.
When: April 2020 – Present
On April 2, 2020, Alliance Defending Freedom sent a letter to the City of Greensboro explaining that the Love Life volunteers had acted in compliance with the county proclamation related to the COVID-19 crisis. But the government doubled down—redefining what qualified as acceptable “outdoor activities” in its proclamation and excluding the actions of these pro-life Christian witnesses.
ADF filed a lawsuit against City of Greensboro and Guilford County on April 14, 2020.
Where: Greensboro, North Carolina
Love Life representatives were praying and walking outside an open abortion clinic in Greensboro, North Carolina, when the arrests and citations occurred.
Why: To ensure that the government cannot single out and punish those who hold viewpoints it doesn’t like.
The county “stay-at-home” order should apply to everyone equally. Instead, it is being used to target people of faith. In fact, all arrests under the order have been of pro-life advocates who were praying outside of the abortion clinic. No one else in the entire city of Greensboro has been arrested. That kind of targeting is not allowed under the Constitution.
Under the First Amendment, we all have the right to free speech. The government cannot deny that constitutional right, even in the face of COVID-19. And it cannot treat people of faith worse than everyone else. But that’s what is happening in Greensboro.
The Bottom Line
This wasn’t about public health and safety; it was about the government silencing speakers just because it doesn’t like what they have to say. Even during a global pandemic, banning the First Amendment is not an option.