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How One City Is Using the COVID-19 Crisis to Shut Down Pro-Life Speech

Pro-life volunteers with the group Love Life were ticketed for praying outside an abortion clinic and accused of violating Greensboro’s COVID-19 policies.
Alliance Defending Freedom
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Pro-life volunteers with the group Love Life were ticketed for praying outside an abortion clinic and accused of violating Greensboro’s COVID-19 policies.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have gone out of their way to care for their neighbors and protect the most vulnerable among us.

That’s exactly what Pastor Isaiah Burner, a volunteer with the pro-life ministry Love Life, was doing when he went to walk and pray outside an abortion facility in the City of Greensboro, North Carolina. He took extra care to comply with social distancing guidelines and sanitize his hands. As he walked, he prayed for one of the most vulnerable populations in our society—the unborn.

That day, he also spent close to an hour counseling and ministering to a father who was grieving the loss of his child through abortion.

But shortly after that conversation, Pastor Burner was ticketed by the police. Other pro-life Christian witnesses with Love Life were even arrested.

That’s why Alliance Defending Freedom stepped in. Let’s take a closer look at this situation and the resulting lawsuit.

 

What is Love Life?

Love Life is a faith-based nonprofit that provides a prayerful Christian witness outside abortion facilities. Love Life’s staff and volunteers participate in prayer walks outside the facilities, interceding for the unborn and their mothers through prayer. They are a peaceful presence standing for the truth and providing a voice for the voiceless.

Love Life representatives also stand ready to offer spiritual and emotional counseling to pregnant mothers, and to connect women with the material resources needed to help welcome their babies into the world.

 

Global Impact Ministries v. City of Greensboro

At the end of March 2020, Guilford County issued a “stay-at-home” order in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, putting a stop to gatherings of more than 10 people as well as to “non-essential” activities.

Under the order, there were exceptions for “essential activities,” including all sorts of outdoor activities, like going to a public park, hiking, walking, and even golfing. There were also exceptions for “essential businesses and operations,” including nonprofit organizations providing social services to vulnerable people.

Love Life’s activities should have fit squarely under those exceptions. So its volunteers continued prayer walks outside of a local abortion facility in the City of Greensboro, which had also been allowed to continue operating in the wake of COVID-19. These volunteers took extra precautions to comply with the order: they had fewer than 10 people gathered at one time, stayed at least six feet apart from one another, and were equipped with hand sanitizer.

Despite this, some of these volunteers were given citations and others were even arrested.

The City claimed the Love Life volunteers were arrested because they traveled by car rather than on foot and because they traveled from outside the county. But those prohibitions are nowhere to be found in the stay-at-home order.

ADF supports the government’s efforts to prioritize the public’s health and safety. But if abortion facilities can stay open during the pandemic, Christians should be allowed to pray outside—especially if they are abiding by health and safety guidelines.

It seems the government didn’t like what these pro-life Christian witnesses have to say, so it used COVID-19 as an excuse to silence them. That’s why ADF filed a lawsuit on behalf of Love Life and its volunteers against Guilford County and the City of Greensboro.

 

What's at stake?

The county “stay-at-home” order should apply to everyone equally. Instead, it is being used to target people of faith. In fact, all arrests under the order have been of pro-life advocates who were praying outside the abortion facility. No one else in the entire City of Greensboro has been arrested. That kind of targeting is not allowed under the Constitution.

Under the First Amendment, we all have the right to free speech. The government cannot deny that constitutional right, even in the face of COVID-19. And it cannot treat people of faith worse than everyone else. But that is what happened in Greensboro.

We must ensure that the government cannot single out and punish those who hold viewpoints it doesn’t like.

 

Case timeline

  • April 2020: ADF sent a letter to the City of Greensboro explaining that the Love Life volunteers had acted in compliance with the county proclamation related to the COVID-19 crisis. But the government doubled down, redefining what qualified as acceptable “outdoor activities” in its proclamation and excluding the actions of these pro-life Christian witnesses. A couple of weeks later, ADF filed a lawsuit against the City of Greensboro and Guilford County.
  • October 2021: Guilford County settled the claims against it, agreeing to pay $15,000 toward the pro-life members’ legal fees. It also agreed to protect citizens’ First Amendment rights if further COVID-19 proclamations are issued. The portion of the lawsuit against the City of Greensboro continues.
  • March 2022: In the lawsuit against the City of Greensboro, the court allowed our free speech, expressive association, and unlawful arrest claims to proceed.
  • Currently: ADF is now engaging in written discovery and will take depositions to uncover further evidence of the City’s discriminatory policies and practices.

 

The bottom line

The arrest of the Love Life volunteers wasn’t about public health and safety; it was about the government silencing speakers just because it doesn’t like what they have to say. Even during a global pandemic, violating the First Amendment is not an option.

 

Learn more:

Love Life founder Justin Reeder appears on EWTN:

Alliance Defending Freedom
Non-profit organization
ADF is the world's largest legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, the sanctity of life, marriage and family, and parental rights.