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ADF to 3rd Circuit: Pittsburgh censorship zones must go

ADF attorneys file opening brief in appeal of lower court ruling that upheld speech ban despite 3rd Circuit’s concerns
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Baby's Feet

PHILADELPHIA – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed their opening brief Friday in an appeal of a federal district court’s ruling that kept in place Pittsburgh’s censorship zone ordinance even after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit expressed great concern over the zones and reinstated the lawsuit challenging them.

The 3rd Circuit found in Bruni v. City of Pittsburgh that “the Ordinance imposes the same kind of burden on speech” as one the U.S. Supreme Court struck down in 2014. The ordinance bans free speech around the facilities of abortionists and even eye doctors, dentists, and any “therapeutic,” “healing,” or “health-building” treatment providers.

“Pro-life speech shouldn’t—and can’t—be censored on public sidewalks. The First Amendment doesn’t allow prohibitions on life-affirming expression simply because some pro-abortion politicians or activists demand it,” said ADF Legal Counsel Elissa Graves. “The district court should have applied what the Supreme Court made clear in 2014—that free speech receives the highest protection on public sidewalks. The city can’t justify silencing the peaceful offers of help that the sidewalk counselors we represent offer to women.”

The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously struck down a similar Massachusetts law in McCullen v. Coakley, a case ADF attorneys and allied attorneys filed in 2008. Following that ruling, ADF attorneys successfully challenged censorship zones in Madison, Wisconsin.

“This case calls for nothing more than a straightforward application of McCullen—the Ordinance imposes the same kind of burden on speech, the same less burdensome options are available, and the City has similarly failed to try or to consider those alternatives to justify its Ordinance…,” the 3rd Circuit wrote in June 2016. “The recent instruction from McCullen and the factual allegations of the Complaint combine to require that we vacate the District Court’s grant of the City’s motion to dismiss the Plaintiffs’ free speech claims…. We reverse so that the Plaintiffs’ claims may be aired and assessed by the standard that McCullen now requires.”

As the ADF opening brief explains, “The City produced almost no evidence of enforcement of existing laws, no evidence that it pursued targeted injunctions, and no evidence that it considered any less restrictive alternatives prior to instituting the Ordinance’s ban on speech…. Rather than use existing laws or pursue less restrictive alternatives, the City’s first choice was to close the public sidewalk. It cannot do so consistent with the First Amendment. The judgment of the District Court should therefore be reversed.”

ADF attorneys filed the lawsuit in 2014 on behalf of pro-life individuals who haven’t been allowed to speak or engage in sidewalk counseling within the zones. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto is enforcing the law, which he voted for as a city councilman in 2005.

Under the ordinance, no one may “knowingly congregate, patrol, picket or demonstrate in a zone extending 15 feet from any entrance to the hospital or health care facility” that the city designates. Health care facilities broadly and vaguely include any “establishment providing therapeutic, preventative, corrective, healing and health-building treatment services on an out-patient basis by physicians, dentists and other practitioners.”

Lawrence G. Paladin, Jr., one of more than 3,200 attorneys allied with ADF, is serving as local counsel in the case.

  • Pronunciation guide: Bruni (BROON’-ee)

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.


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