David Benham and other pro-life activists have filed an amended complaint against North Carolina officials in response to their arrests last year while outside an abortion clinic.
Amid a statewide lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Benham and a small number of sidewalk counselors went to an abortion clinic in Charlotte last year to try and persuade mothers seeking an abortion to change their minds. While there, they were cited by police and subsequently arrested.
On Monday, as part of the ongoing litigation over the incident, Benham and the other plaintiffs filed an amended complaint against the city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, Charlotte Division.
The pro-life activists are being represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative law firm that has successfully argued cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Denise Harle, senior counsel with ADF, told The Christian Post on Tuesday that their decision to file the amended complaint was strengthened by the fact that the charges against Benham and the others were later dropped.
“The dropping of the charges actually underscores why this amended complaint should prevail,” said Harle. “What we’ve added in this amended complaint is Fourth Amendment claims, based on the unlawful stop, unlawful detention, and unlawful arrests, the fact that the city and the county dropped the charges against David Benham shows that those arrests were improper.”
She continued, “The fact that they’re not even pursuing the charges is a pretty clear admission that there’s no there, there. And that’s exactly what we’re bringing to the federal court in this amended complaint is that those arrests themselves were a violation of the Fourth Amendment.”
Harle also told CP that she believed the arrests of Benham and the sidewalk counselors were a violation of the First Amendment and “motivated by a targeting of free speech and animosity toward certain religious views.”
“The government certainly is welcomed to protect public health, but if it is going to do that, it needs to do so in an evenhanded way that has a rational basis,” she continued.
“What it can’t do is enact a law and then apply it unfairly only to select groups of people whose viewpoint the government disagrees with.”
The city of Charlotte declined to comment about the litigation when contacted by The Christian Post.
According to authorities, the April 2020 arrests were made because Benham and the others were allegedly violating state lockdown orders.
Benham, Cities4Life and Global Impact Ministries, also called Love Life, denied any wrongdoing and filed a lawsuit against Charlotte and Mecklenburg County.
The suit claimed the police selectively enforced the orders, noting that “the abortion clinic began filling up with clients and numerous people roamed the parks and sidewalks for recreation and exercise.”
“[We] were praying on the sidewalk, maintaining a safe distance from one another and others, and helping women interested in the important charitable services they offered,” stated the complaint.
“Despite the health and safety motivations underlying the COVID-19 restrictions, government officials cannot and should not selectively enforce those regulations. Nor should they prohibit constitutionally protected activities that do not endanger public health or safety.”