(July 10, 2023 – Albany, NY) — Late last Friday, the American Freedom Law Center (AFLC) filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York against Letitia James, the New York Attorney General, for unlawfully targeting and defaming peaceful pro-lifers in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and New York law.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of two Michigan residents, Monica Miller and Suzanne Abdalla, who are associated with Red Rose Rescue, a peaceful pro-life organization that seeks to protect women and unborn babies from the violence and harm of abortion.
During a press conference held by Attorney General James to announce the filing of a civil lawsuit against Red Rose Rescue and several pro-lifers, James falsely labelled those who associate with Red Rose Rescue as “terrorists” and falsely claimed that Red Rose Rescue is a “terrorist group.” The civil lawsuit made no allegation of terrorism as there are no facts to support such a claim of criminality.
David Yerushalmi, AFLC Co-Founder and Senior Counsel, commented:
“New York Attorney General Letitia James, like many left-wing progressives in positions of power, has weaponized her office to target private citizens who oppose abortion on religious grounds. As the chief law enforcement officer of the state, her false and defamatory statements are particularly egregious as she has a sworn duty to uphold the law and to provide equal justice under the law to all persons and organizations regardless of their religious beliefs and views on abortion. Aside from violating our clients’ rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, James’ false statements constitute defamation per se under New York law. Consequently, we are seeking compensatory and punitive damages against her personally.”
Robert Muise, Co-Founder and Senior Counsel of AFLC, added:
“With no hint of irony, Attorney General James turns a blind eye to the ongoing and destructive violent crime ravaging the streets of New York and instead uses the resources of her office to attack and defame individuals who abhor violence, including the violence of abortion.”
As set forth in the lawsuit:
Defendant James’ public dissemination of false information about Plaintiffs is injurious to Plaintiffs’ interests, which has caused and will continue to cause irreparable harm to Plaintiffs and their public reputation. These false and defamatory statements also have a chilling effect on Plaintiffs’ rights to freedom of speech and expressive association, and the defamatory statements have a chilling effect on the rights to freedom of speech and expressive association of other pro-lifers associated with Red Rose Rescue.
Defendant James’ actions as set forth in this Complaint were motivated by malice against pro-lifers, including Plaintiffs, and their religious objection to abortion, and they were made with hatred, ill will, and spite.
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By branding religious opponents (pro-lifers) as “terrorists,” Defendant James seeks to officially censor, correct, and/or condemn certain religious beliefs, views, and ideas.
Defendant James’ acts as set forth in this Complaint are designed to chill the exercise of constitutional rights by pro-lifers such as Plaintiffs and to chill those who would associate with Red Rose Rescue from exercising their constitutional rights.
Defendant James’ acts as set forth in this Complaint create a tool of intimidation for state government officials. Defendant James’ identification of pro-lifers as “terrorists” provides a basis for government officials to abuse their positions of power by seeking to stifle certain religious beliefs and views. It also provides adversaries, such as Planned Parenthood and others pro-abortion extremists who were invited to participate in the press conference with Defendant James, with a government sponsored and endorsed basis for making and perpetuating false claims about pro-lifers, causing further harm to Plaintiffs.
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Defendant James’ labeling of those who associate with Red Rose Rescue as “terrorists” is grotesque and absurd on its face; it is reckless in the extreme; it harms Plaintiffs’ public reputation; and it is an unconstitutional dereliction of Defendant James’ sworn duty to uphold the United States and New York Constitutions and to provide equal justice under the law to all persons and organizations regardless of their religious beliefs and views.
The purposes and effects of Defendant James’ actions are to silence religious opposition to the pro-abortion policies that she supports; to marginalize pro-lifers by officially and pejoratively labeling them as “terrorists”; to deter and diminish support for pro-lifers; and to provide a government-sanctioned justification for officials, including law enforcement officials, to harass and target religious opponents, thereby creating a deterrent effect on religious-motivated speech and views and the expressive association of pro-lifers, including Plaintiffs.
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Defendant James is engaged in a governmental attack on the reputation of pro-lifers, including Plaintiffs, that is designed to marginalize pro-lifers and their religious viewpoints.
Defendants James’ challenged actions as set forth in this Complaint have the purpose and effect of deterring pro-lifers from associating with Red Rose Rescue and those involved with Red Rose Rescue, including Plaintiffs, and deterring donors and volunteers from supporting the activities of Red Rose Rescue. Defendant James’ actions also legitimize the illegitimate attacks against pro-lifers in the public eye. Consequently, the challenged actions harm Plaintiffs’ constitutionally protected activities and interests.
When Defendant James, the New York Attorney General, places pejorative labels on opponents who express religious beliefs and views contrary to those she espouses, she places the power of the state government, with its authority, presumed neutrality, and assumed access to all the facts, behind an appellation designed to reduce the effectiveness of the speech in the eyes of the public in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
The lawsuit is seeking declaratory and injunctive relief and $5 million in compensatory and punitive damages.