A trio of pro-life counselors won a major free speech legal victory Thursday when a District of Columbia appeals court ordered a lower court to dismiss a lawsuit against them.
The case involves a group of pro-lifers who protested on a sidewalk in front of Two Rivers Public Charter School, which is located in D.C. next to a Planned Parenthood facility that was being built, according to facts listed in the court’s ruling. The pro-lifers held signs of aborted babies and spoke to students and parents entering the school. They also handed out leaflets, according to the court. All total, the pro-lifers held at least four protests.
The school sued the protesters, claiming the pro-lifers “prevented administrators and teachers from being able to plan for the school day, forced them to make ‘extraordinary efforts’ to protect students, inhibited the ‘core educational goals of the school,’ and threatened the charter school’s funding, which depends on enrollment.” The school’s lawsuit alleged intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED), private nuisance and conspiracy to create a private nuisance.
The trial court sided with the school.
But on Thursday, the D.C. Court of Appeals remanded the case to the trial court and ordered it to be dismissed. The school did not have legal standing to bring the case, the court ruled. Instead, students should have filed suit, the court ruled.
The decision was unanimous (3-0). The Court of Appeals is the highest in the District of Columbia.
“[T]he trial court erred in holding that Two Rivers had demonstrated it was likely to succeed on the merits,” the court ruled.
Liberty Counsel, which represented one of the pro-life protesters, Larry Cirignano, applauded the court’s decision.
“This victory for free speech has taken several years to accomplish, but its importance will affect generations,” said Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver. “A victory for free speech is a victory for everyone. And a victory to bring awareness about an abortion facility situated near a public school is clearly in the public interest. It was a costly decision for Two Rivers Public Charter School to avoid the First Amendment. Free speech cannot be brushed aside by intimidation or litigation tactics.”
Photo courtesy: Pixabay
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.