Worthy Christian News » Christian » Peaceful Pro-Life Prayer Vigil Ends In Wrongful Arrests
May 20, 2001
Rutherford Institute Attorneys Appeal to U.S. Supreme Court Citing Free Speech Violations
WASHINGTON - Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute have appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of several residents of the city of Fargo, North Dakota, who were arrested while participating in a peaceful residential "prayer walk."
On the evening of October 10, 1991, several Fargo community members participated in a public prayer vigil in the residential neighborhood where Jane Bovard lived. Bovard was the administrator of the Womenâ€™s Health Organization, a clinic that performed abortions. Upon arriving home and noting a group of people engaged in a silent prayer vigil passing her home, Bovard contacted the police. Citing the cityâ€™s antipicketing ordinance, the Fargo Police Department demanded that the prayer activities cease. One participant, Chris Veneklase, explained to the police that the demonstrators were not picketing but engaging in prayer. When several demonstrators refused to stop their "prayer walk," the police arrested them for picketing in a residential neighborhood.
Following a jury trial in federal court, the actions of the city police department were found to be unconstitutional, and the jury awarded compensation and attorneysâ€™ fees to the protestors. A three-judge panel of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals also ruled in favor of the protestors. However, an eleven-judge appeals court subsequently overturned the verdict. The full court ruled that the protests constituted unlawful â€œtargetedâ€ residential picketing because the protestors included Bovardâ€™s house on their prayer route. The Rutherford Instituteâ€™s appeal asks the Supreme Court to decide whether a residential protestâ€”otherwise protected by the First Amendment as free speechâ€”becomes unlawful when it passes the house of an individual who does not wish to see or hear it.
"When citizens can be arrested and taken away in order to stop them from silently praying against abortion simply because one resident finds it â€˜offensive,â€™ politics have trampled free speech," said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. "The Rutherford Institute is hopeful that the Supreme Court will hear this case and correct the ten-year-long injustice against peaceable, law-abiding citizens."
The Rutherford Institute is a nonprofit civil liberties organization committed to defending constitutional and human rights.
Rutherford Institute. Used with Permission.