Published On: Thu, Jul 24th, 2014

Pro-life group files free speech lawsuit against Mississippi Police Department

Life Legal Defense Foundation filed a lawsuit against the City of Jackson Mississippi Police Department Wednesday in United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, Jackson Division.  The not-for-profit law firm is representing Pro-Life Mississippi in the case charging the city’s law enforcement division with blatant and ongoing violation of free speech rights of pro-life advocates.

Scale of Justice photo/DTR via wikimedia commons

Scale of Justice photo/DTR via wikimedia commons

Dana Cody, President and Executive Director of Life Legal Defense Foundation, explained the case: “The Jackson Police Department has routinely harassed pro-life citizens, who have been peacefully exercising their legal right to oppose abortion in the public square and offer information about life-affirming alternatives to women seeking abortion.”

The case revolves around activities outside of the state’s only abortion clinic, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The filing cites frequent threats of arrest with no legal basis and continual harassment of pro-life advocates by police outside of the abortion vendor’s business. A July 17, 2014, video from pro-life organization Created Equal records Jackson police standing by as an individual stole the group’s prolife display.  As a group member asked an officer to do something about it, the policeman – leaning back against a squad car and holding a beverage “to go” cup – responded, without moving, “I’m dealing with something right now.”

The officer’s behavior is not unique to that occasion, as the complaint seeks declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, and damages, citing multiple incidents and referencing a previous court action condemning the behavior of the city’s police department.  The March 2008 consent order against the City of Jackson, its Chief of Police and various officers, was issued because of the Jackson Police Department’s pervasive policy of violating the free speech rights of pro-life advocates. It mandated annual training in First Amendment rights for law enforcement personnel.

Repeated Jackson Police Department harassment of pro-life advocates on the public ways dates back to before 1996. Recent documented incidents include:

  • June 2014 – Threats of arrest for exiting a parked vehicle to share pro-life literature on a public sidewalk
  • March 2014 – Multiple threats of arrest and orders that pro-life speakers relocate, including those who met to pray against abortion
  • February 2014 and December 2013 – Arrests of those with pro-life signs or literature for sitting in chairs on public property or public right of ways
  • January 2014 – Detainment and threats of arrest for noise violations for those speaking – without amplification – about pro-life matters
  • October 2013 and April 2013 – Threats to arrest those with pro-life signs or literature for sitting in chairs or public property or public right of ways
  • March 2013 and February 2013 – Arrests of those with holding pro-life signs for obstructing a public sidewalk

In most of these cases, charges have been dismissed.  In one arrest the defendants showed up for arraignment to find the court had no record of the charges against them. In several instances, personal belongings confiscated by police have never been returned.

Cody added, “For police to be selective and prejudicial as to how they enforce the law outside of Mississippi’s only abortion vendor does a disservice to the people of Jackson. When those charged with upholding the law violate the basic rights of citizens, it cannot be tolerated. Life Legal Defense Foundation intends to pursue all legal remedies necessary to stop this targeted persecution of those who promote the sanctity of human life.”

Read the Life Legal Defense Foundation court filing in United States District Court HERE

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