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Published On: Wed, Feb 4th, 2015

North Dakota: Robert Rudnick, pro-lifers win free speech battle over ‘truth truck’

Thomas More Society has won dismissal of all charges against pro-life advocate Robert Rudnick, who had been arrested on account of his pro-life speech in Williston, ND. Judge Paul W. Jacobson of North Dakota District Court has granted Thomas More Society’s motion to dismiss, which was drafted with the assistance of First Amendment scholar Professor Eugene Volokh.

“We are very happy that Judge Jacobson has dismissed the charges against pro-lifer Rob Rudnick,” said Tom Brejcha, Thomas More Society president and chief counsel. “Mr. Rudnick’s arrest was based on content discrimination—a blatant violation of his First Amendment rights. Just because someone dislikes the pro-life message does not mean the message should be silenced.”

photo Pearson Scott Foresman

photo Pearson Scott Foresman

During last year’s campaign for a pro-life amendment to the North Dakota Constitution (“Measure 1”), Mr. Rudnick, a Williston resident, and other pro-life activists such as Dan and Donna Holman of Iowa and Matt Trewhella of Missionaries to the Preborn, based in Milwaukee, WI, were driving “truth trucks” throughout North Dakota with large, detailed photos of unborn babies and aborted babies.

The photos were intended to influence North Dakota voters to uphold the human dignity of the unborn. Mr. Rudnick was pulled over by the police and told to remove the photos from his truck. Because he did not comply with the police officers’ demands, he was arrested for disorderly conduct and his truck and signs were confiscated.

The other “truth truck” drivers also had been stopped by Williston police and warned that they, too, would be arrested and their trucks and signs confiscated unless they removed the signs or stayed out of the city of Williston. The other drivers complied, while protesting that their First Amendment rights were being violated by being barred from campaigning lawfully in support of Measure 1.

The police report against Mr. Rudnick explicitly stated that it was the content of the signs on his truck that prompted the police to stop and arrest him—the officer even told Mr. Rudnick he was being “arrested for overly graphic pictures.” Later, the City tried to claim that the images were overly distracting to other drivers, but offered no legitimate justification for censorship of this “distraction” over the myriad other distractions drivers face all the time.

The brief in support of Thomas More Society’s motion to dismiss was written by Thomas More Society Attorney Jocelyn Floyd with input from distinguished First Amendment scholar Eugene Volokh, Professor of UCLA Law School and author of the well-known blog, “The Volokh Conspiracy,” now published by the Washington Post. The brief emphasized the principle, continuously upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States, that speech must not “be punished or banned, simply because it might offend” some of the people who hear (or view) it. Based on this principle, they argued, applying the disorderly conduct ordinance to Mr. Rudnick based on the content of his speech would be unconstitutional.

The Society also retained the Minot, N.D. law firm of Pringle & Herigstad, P.C., and its associate counsel Ashley Flagstad argued the case in North Dakota District Court, Northwest Judicial District, on February 2, 2015. Judge Paul W. Jacobson agreed with the Society’s arguments and has granted their motion, dismissing the charges.

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” said Professor Eugene Volokh, “and pictures – however disturbing – are as constitutionally protected as words, whether they are pictures of aborted fetuses, war casualties, lynching victims, or abused animals. Whatever one’s views about abortion rights, such speech needs to be defended.”

Thomas More Society’s brief in support of the motion to dismiss may be found here.

Copy of police report against Robert Rudnick may be found here.

Judge Jacobson’s Order, granting the motion to dismiss may be found here.

North Dakota truth truck pro-life abortion

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