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ADF attorneys representing arrested pro-life advocates tell NC city it has gone too far

Love Life members cited, arrested even though they abided by terms of county emergency proclamation related to COVID-19
Published On: 4/3/2020
GREENSBORO, N.C. – Alliance Defending Freedom sent a letter Thursday to the city of Greensboro on behalf of pro-life advocates whom police arrested for engaging in peaceful prayer outside an abortion facility. As the letter explains, the arrests should not have occurred because the pro-life volunteers, who are members of the Christian ministry Love Life, were in compliance with a Guilford County emergency proclamation related to the coronavirus crisis.

The city says it arrested the Love Life members because they traveled by car and not by foot and because they traveled from outside the county—prohibitions found nowhere in the proclamation or in any law. The city also claimed that the proclamation gives the city the authority to prohibit First Amendment activity, which is also untrue. Love Life members intentionally and carefully engaged in their activities to comply with the proclamation.

“This wasn’t about public health and safety; it was about the government silencing people because it doesn’t like what they have to say,” said ADF Senior Counsel Denise Harle. “We support authorities’ efforts to prioritize the public’s health and safety, but if other groups are free to assemble, people of faith should be, too. And if abortion clinics can stay open during the pandemic, Christians should be allowed to pray outside—particularly those abiding by health and safety guidelines, as our clients were.”

On March 28 and 30, Love Life President Justin Reeder and a few other representatives of the organization walked near the A Woman’s Choice abortion facility to pray both on public property and on adjacent private property where Love Life regularly prays with the property owners’ permission. Mindful of the Guilford County proclamation, Love Life ensured that, at all times, fewer than 10 individuals were present in its group, that they were spaced at least six feet apart, and that they were equipped with sanitizer, as required by the social distancing provisions of the proclamation. Their activities are also allowed under several other provisions of the proclamation.

Nevertheless, the Love Life representatives were issued citations and arrested. Greensboro police officers told them they were in violation of the proclamation, specifically “travel for a non-essential function.” The city attorney doubled-down on that erroneous interpretation, claiming that individuals may travel by foot, but not by car, to engage in outdoor activities, and that no one can travel from outside the county to engage in outdoor activities within the county. He also wrongly claimed that the proclamation authorizes the city to suspend First Amendment activities for the duration of the emergency, telling ADF that Love Life can “prey [sic] and speak at home.”

“As our letter explains, the emergency proclamation, the Constitution, and court precedent do not support these interpretations. They all support the free speech activities of Love Life,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot, director of the ADF Center for Life. “Did the city really have no choice but to arrest these pastors and other Christians under the circumstances—and possibly punish them with up to 60 days in jail and a $1,000 fine? Of course not, especially when the same government is allowing other people to walk, bike, golf, and picnic.”

“It is imperative that this situation be corrected immediately to avoid unnecessary litigation in federal court,” the letter regarding Guilford County v. Reeder concludes. “Please instruct any City of Greensboro officers or employees to discontinue their interference with Love Life’s right to engage in assembly, prayer, and other expressive activities on public property, in accordance with the Emergency Resolution…. Please understand that we will advise Love Life of its right to take immediate legal action against the City of Greensboro if its representatives’ First Amendment rights are not immediately restored.”
 
  • Pronunciation guide: Harle (HAR’-lee), Theriot (TAIR’-ee-oh)

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
 
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