ACLU Sues to Protect Free Speech Rights of Anti-Abortion Church Group in Indiana

July 16, 2004

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

SCOTTSBURG, IN-- The Indiana Civil Liberties Union announced today that it has filed a lawsuit to stop city officials' unconstitutional infringements on the free speech rights of a Baptist preacher and his congregation. 

In its lawsuit, the ICLU charges that Pastor John Lewis and his congregants from the Old Paths Baptist Church were repeatedly threatened with arrest and/or citation by the Scottsburg Police Department for using megaphones during anti-abortion demonstrations. Police officials told Pastor Lewis that they were concerned about the possible reaction of passersby who hear his message.

"Pastor Lewis and his church members were ordered to stop, not because there was some ordinance they were violating or that the noise rose to the level of disorderly conduct, but because the police were concerned that the persons hearing the message might react against it," said ICLU Legal Director Ken Falk. "This appears to be a classic case of a 'heckler's veto', which is unconstitutional."

In a similar case, the ICLU previously filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Old Paths Baptist Church last July against a Salem ordinance that would restrict public protest. The ordinance was aimed at curbing anti-abortion protests led by Pastor Lewis outside Washington County Courthouse. The ordinance required groups to apply for parade permits at least four weeks before any protest and pay a $100 application fee.

The ICLU has consistently defended the reproductive rights of women in the courts, in the Indiana General Assembly and in Congress. But the American way is to confront a contrary view, not to muzzle it, said the ICLU. 

"Whether we agree with all of the message of Pastor Lewis and his followers is irrelevant," said ICLU Executive Director Fran Quigley. "The ICLU is dedicated to preserving the rights of religious expression and free speech for all Hoosiers."

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