Lawsuit Filed to Defend Pro-Lifers’ First Amendment Rights

On August 1, 2018, the American Freedom Law Center (AFLC), along with local counsel, filed a civil rights lawsuit against the City of Toledo, its Chief of Police and two City police officers in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.

The lawsuit alleges that the City and its officers violated Cal and Corrie Zastrow’s fundamental constitutional rights protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Cal, and his daughter Corrie, are Christians.  As part of their expressive religious activity, they protest abortion by engaging in prayer, preaching, worship, distributing literature, and holding pro-life signs on the public sidewalks surrounding facilities where abortions are performed, including on the public sidewalks and other public areas adjacent to the Capital Care Network abortion center, which is located in the City of Toledo.

Per the Complaint filed in this case, the City, through its Chief of Police and its police officers, has engaged in a pattern of conduct whereby it has enforced or threatened to enforce various provisions of the Ohio Revised Code, including Menacing (ORC § 2903.22), Obstructing Official Business (ORC § 2921.31), and Disorderly Conduct (ORC § 2917.11), and the Toledo Municipal Code, including Criminal Trespass (§ 541.05), Disorderly Conduct (§ 509.03), and Loitering (§ 509.08), to restrict the free speech rights of Cal and Corrie while they are engaging in their First Amendment activity on the public sidewalks and other public areas adjacent to the Capital Care abortion center.

In fact, on October 3, 2017, Cal was preaching on the public sidewalk adjacent to the Capital Care abortion center when the police arrived and ordered him to stop.  When Cal refused, the officers arrested him, placed him in handcuffs, and transported him to the Lucas County Correction Center.

Cal Preaching with Police Watching--2

Cal being arrested-2

On other occasions, Corrie was ordered to cease her constitutionally protected activity under threats of arrest by City police officers, who claimed that her free speech activity violated various state and city statutes.

In the lawsuit, Cal and Corrie allege that the City’s enforcement and threatened enforcement of various provisions of the Ohio Revised Code and the Toledo Municipal Code to restrict their free speech rights violate the First Amendment (Free Speech and Free Exercise) and the Fourteenth Amendment (Equal Protection).  They are seeking a declaration that the City and its officers violated their rights and an injunction halting any future restrictions on their rights.  Corrie is also seeking nominal damages for the past loss of her rights.

Robert Muise, AFLC Co-Founder and Senior Counsel, commented:

“This is yet another case of a City and its police officers exercising their muscle to silence peaceful pro-life demonstrators to appease those engaged in the baby killing business.  The Constitution protects our clients’ pro-life activity.  The City and its police officers have no authority to silence our clients’ speech simply because they are preaching the Gospel on a public sidewalk next to an abortion center.”

David Yerushalmi, AFLC Co-Founder and Senior Counsel, added:

“The government has no authority to promote and support the abortion industry by silencing those who oppose it.  The actions of the City of Toledo and its officers in this case are deplorable, and they violate our clients’ clearly established fundamental rights.  We fully intend to stop this egregious violation of the Constitution and to make the City wish it had never sided with the baby killers.”