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Published On: Fri, Feb 19th, 2016

Florida police block pro-life peaceful protest at abortion clinic, Thomas More Society responds

Thomas More Society attorneys have sent a letter to the City of Hollywood, Florida, and the Hollywood Police Department challenging a police officer’s recent order forbidding pro-lifers from standing on a public sidewalk in front of a clinic that performs abortions, apparently at the clinic’s request. On the first day of the Spring 40 Days for Life prayer vigil outside A Woman’s Center of Hollywood abortion facility, Officer Del Castillo of the Hollywood Police Department told pro-life volunteers that they could not stand on the public sidewalk in front of the abortion clinic. Thomas More Society contends that this demand is a blatant violation of the pro-lifers’ First Amendment rights.

photo courtesy March For Life Chicago

photo courtesy March For Life Chicago

“Forbidding pro-lifers from standing on public property violates 75 years of clear Supreme Court precedent that gives broad protections to those engaging in free speech in public places,” said Corrina Konczal, Thomas More Society Associate Counsel.  “We are confident that, once the City and Chief of Police are made aware of this officer’s unconstitutional ban, that they will reverse this order and assure our clients of their rights to publicly pray and hold signs on any sidewalk in the City.”

This is the third year that volunteers participating in the 40 Days for Life Hollywood prayer vigils have had a peaceful presence on the public property – including both the sidewalk and swale (grassy area between the street and sidewalk) – outside A Woman’s Center. However, last week, on the first day of this years’ campaign, Officer Del Castillo of the Hollywood Police Department told the pro-lifers that they could not stand on the public sidewalk because the clinic had said they did not want the pro-lifers there.  He stated that the abortion clinic has the right to determine who may and may not stand on the sidewalk in front of its building.  He implied that if this order was not obeyed, pro-lifers could be ticketed.

“We should not be banned from the public sidewalk just because we’re pro-life,” said John Hickey, 40 Days for Life Hollywood volunteer. “We’re exercising our First Amendment rights by holding a peaceful prayer vigil to help women and unborn children. Hopefully, Officer Del Castillo’s supervisors will reverse his incorrect order so that our free speech will be respected for the rest of the 40 Days vigil.”

Thomas More Society’s letter calls upon the City of Hollywood and the Office of the Chief of police to confirm that Officer Del Castillo was mistaken when he banned the pro-lifers from the public sidewalk and to reassure pro-lifers of their constitutional right to stand on the public sidewalk in front of the abortion clinic, noting specifically that “Officer Del Castillo’s order is a clearly unconstitutional restriction of our clients’ freedom of speech in a traditional public forum – a public sidewalk.”  The letter requests a response from the City and Police Department by Friday, February 19, 2016.

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