Recommended

NC county agrees to pay $15K after activists arrested for praying at abortion clinic

Love Life Charlotte
A demonstrator holds up a sign while participating in a Love Live Charlotte prayer walk outside of A Preferred Women's Health Center in Charlotte, North Carolina in this undated photo posted to Facebook on Sept. 11, 2017. |

A North Carolina county has agreed to pay $15,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by pro-life activists nearly two years after being arrested for protesting outside an abortion clinic during the coronavirus pandemic.

Guilford County, North Carolina, has reached a settlement in the case of Global Impact Ministries v. City of Greensboro.

The case stems from the arrest of pro-life activists praying outside of A Woman’s Choice clinic in Greensboro on March 28 and 30, 2020, during the early days of the COVID-19 lockdowns. 

Justin Reeder, president and founder of the Charlotte-based pro-life organization Love Life, also known as Global Impact Ministries, joined seven of his colleagues in gathering outside the abortion clinic to pray. The gathering came at a time when the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic caused local governments to implement stay-at-home orders and shutdowns of nearly all businesses except those deemed essential.

The activists were subsequently arrested for violating the public health orders.

Shortly after the city issued Reeder and his fellow pro-life advocates an arrest citation and threatened them with fines up to $1,000, the religious Liberty legal nonprofit Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit against the city and Guilford County in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina in April 2020.

In a letter to city officials, ADF Senior Counsel Denise Harle insisted that the arrest was unnecessary because the pro-life activists complied with social distancing guidelines implemented to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

“Love Life ensured that, at all times, fewer than 10 individuals were present in its group, that they were spaced at least six feet apart, and that they were equipped with sanitizer, as required by the social distancing provisions of the proclamation,” the letter reads. 

Additionally, ADF argued that local officials violated their clients’ First Amendment rights and took issue with the city attorney’s claim that their prayers outside the abortion clinic constituted a “non-essential” activity because they can “prey [sic] and speak at home.”

Kevin Theriot, who served as the director of ADF’s Center for Life at the time, said the “emergency proclamation, the Constitution, and court precedent do not support these interpretations.”

Theriot maintained that the local government was guilty of a double standard in the enforcement of its social distancing protocols.

“The legal rule that the government must follow is that it must have a truly compelling interest in order to violate citizens’ First Amendment rights and it must do so in the least restrictive means possible,” he stated. 

“But when the same government is allowing some people to walk, bike, golf, and picnic while threatening others with 60 days in jail and a $1,000 fine for praying on a sidewalk, they have not even come close to meeting that burden.”

In settling the lawsuit, county officials agreed that protesting outside an abortion clinic constitutes protected speech, even during a pandemic. The county will pay the pro-life activists $15,000 in attorneys’ fees.

Despite the settlement with the county, the pro-life activists have yet to reach a settlement with the city of Greensboro.

In a statement Monday, Harle, who now serves as the Director of ADF’s Center for Life, praised the outcome.

“We commend Guilford County officials for agreeing to respect the free speech rights of Love Life members and acknowledging their freedom to pray and speak in the public square, and we invite the city of Greensboro to do the same,” Harle said.

“The government can concern itself with health and safety and still respect the constitutionally protected freedoms guaranteed to citizens,” she added. “From the beginning, this case has been about government silencing people because it didn’t like what they had to say. If abortion providers could stay open to perform elective abortions during the pandemic, Christians abiding by health and safety guidelines should certainly be allowed to pray outside.”

While news of the settlement was announced Monday, court documents reveal that both parties agreed to dismiss the case nearly four months ago. The joint stipulation of dismissal reached between the pro-life activists and Guilford County came 1.5 years after the lawsuit was filed. 

What happened in Greensboro is not the only example of pro-life activists facing legal consequences for praying outside abortion clinics during the coronavirus pandemic.

In Charlotte, North Carolina, David Benham of the Benham brothers was among several pro-life protesters arrested for gathering outside an abortion clinic in the state’s largest city at the height of the strict coronavirus lockdowns. ADF represented the pro-lifers in a lawsuit against Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. 

At around the same time, a pro-life trio protesting outside an abortion clinic in Detroit, Michigan, sued the city and the governor for ticketing them. The pro-life advocates reached an agreement with the state and local government officials shortly thereafter.

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: ryan.foley@christianpost.com

Free Religious Freedom Updates

Join thousands of others to get the FREEDOM POST newsletter for free, sent twice a week from The Christian Post.

Most Popular

Free Religious Freedom Updates

A religious liberty newsletter that is a must-read for people of faith.

More In Politics