(Detroit, Michigan – October 20,2022) – Today, a federal civil rights lawsuit was filed by the American Freedom Law Center (AFLC) against the City of Eastpointe, Michigan and two of its officials for allegedly violating the civil rights of pro-life activists who protest abortion on the public sidewalk at the Eastland Women’s Clinic, an abortion center located in the City.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Jeffrey and Cydney Domsic, pro-life activists who want to engage in constitutionally protected speech activity at the abortion center but are prevented from doing so because the City and its police officers unlawfully target pro-life activists by issuing bogus criminal citations.
AFLC Co-Founder and Senior Counsel Robert Muise commented:
“We are tired of government officials protecting baby killers rather than the First Amendment. If we don’t pushback hard in egregious cases like this, we will forever lose our fundamental rights.”
The controversy between pro-life activists and City police officers came to a head on October 1, 2022, when officers issued criminal citations to two pro-lifers for holding anti-abortion signs on the public sidewalk outside of the Eastland abortion center.
The pro-lifers were not obstructing the public sidewalk; they stood to the side of the sidewalk to allow pedestrian access.
While the pro-lifers’ free speech activity was peaceful, non-obstructive, and constitutionally protected, pro-abortion workers and volunteers of the Eastland abortion center used umbrellas to block people from seeing the pro-lifers’ anti-abortion signs, and they blocked and obstructed access to the public sidewalk by doing so.
Images showing the obstructive behavior of the pro-abortion workers and volunteers appear below:
Pursuant to the City’s practice of targeting pro-lifers for disparate treatment, City police officers did nothing to prevent the pro-abortion workers and volunteers from suppressing the pro-lifers’ speech with their umbrellas, and they did nothing to prevent the pro-abortion workers and volunteers from blocking access to the public sidewalk with their umbrellas.
Instead, City police officers issued, without warning or notice, criminal citations to two peaceful pro-lifers, citing them for allegedly violating § 30-111 of the City’s Code of Ordinances. The citations also stated, “SIGN PERMIT REQUIRED.”
A violation of § 30-111 is a misdemeanor which carries criminal penalties, including a $500 fine and imprisonment for up to 90 days.
According to the officer who issued the citations, the pro-lifers violated the law because they “cannot stay stationary . . . the signs have to stay in motion the entire time.” This view of the law was confirmed by other City police officers at the scene.
Remarkably, § 30-111, says nothing about having to keep hand-held signs in motion (nor does any other City ordinance). In fact, the ordinance at issue says nothing about hand-held signs; it addresses the distribution of handbills.
The interaction between and among the City police officers and the pro-life activists was captured on video.
Below are images of City police officers issuing the citations and explaining the law violation (i.e., that the failure to keep the anti-abortion signs in motion is a criminal offense):
As set forth in the Complaint:
“By its plain language, § 30-111 does not apply to the pro-life activists’ speech activity. Moreover, the First Amendment does not require pro-life activists to keep their signs in motion when holding them on a public sidewalk nor does it require a ‘sign permit’ under the circumstances set forth in this Complaint. In fact, requiring the pro-life activists to get a permit for this activity or to keep their signs moving as a condition to exercising their right to free speech violates the First Amendment.”
AFLC Co-Founder and Senior Counsel David Yerushalmi added:
“Attacks on the free speech rights of pro-lifers and other conservatives are occurring at every level of government. The actions of the government officials in this case are appalling, but, unfortunately, not surprising. The fact that these police officers were comfortable with issuing criminal citations to pro-lifers who were engaging in constitutionally protected activity and citing them for violating a criminal statute that on its face does not apply demonstrates the level at which government officials have disdain for the First Amendment. We must fight back.”
The lawsuit seeks a declaration that the City’s actions are unconstitutional, an order enjoining (halting) the unlawful targeting of pro-lifers, nominal damages, and an award of costs and attorneys’ fees.
In addition to representing the pro-life plaintiffs in this civil case, AFLC is representing the two pro-life defendants in the criminal case. Under federal abstention doctrine, the two defendants cannot join this civil lawsuit until their state court criminal proceedings are concluded in their favor.