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ADF files suit against Pittsburgh censorship zones

Sweeping law prohibits free speech near abortionists, eye doctors, dentists, any ‘therapeutic,’ ‘healing,’ ‘health-building’ treatment services
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PITTSBURGH – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a federal lawsuit Thursday and requested a court order Friday to block a Pittsburgh ordinance that creates hundreds of censorship zones throughout the city that ban leafleting and other free speech. The zones block speech around the facilities of abortionists, eye doctors, dentists, and any “therapeutic,” “healing,” or “health-building” treatment services.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously struck down a similar law in McCullen v. Coakley, a case ADF attorneys and allied attorneys filed in 2008. ADF attorneys successfully challenged additional laws in Madison, Wis., and New Hampshire following the Supreme Court’s ruling.

“The government cannot muzzle speech just because it doesn’t reflect the views of abortionists or pro-abortion government representatives,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Matt Bowman. “The Supreme Court made that clear when it affirmed the long-recognized fact that public streets and sidewalks are places where free speech is highly protected. These kinds of censorship zones are clearly unconstitutional, and the city should rescind this bad law.”

ADF attorneys represent pro-life individuals who are challenging the ordinance. 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.” 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.”

“The ordinance therefore creates anti-speech zones on the entrances to an enormous number of facilities throughout Pittsburgh that provide any health care services,” the ADF lawsuit explains. “And because new health care facilities open in a variety of office buildings and zones, the Ordinance continually spawns new anti-speech zones on public sidewalks, streets, and other public ways throughout the City….  The Ordinance is an unconstitutional content- and viewpoint-based restriction in that it was enacted and is applied so as to restrict pro-life speech, but permits speech in favor of abortion or concerning topics and speakers not disfavored by the City of Pittsburgh.”

“Americans have the freedom to talk to whomever they please on public sidewalks,” added ADF Litigation Counsel Elissa Graves. “That includes peaceful pro-lifers who just want to offer information and help to women who would like to know their options. As the Supreme Court recently noted, this critical freedom has been an essential part of American life since the nation’s founding.”

Lawrence G. Paladin, one of nearly 2,500 attorneys allied with Alliance Defending Freedom, is local counsel in the lawsuit, Bruni v. City of Pittsburgh, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

  • Pronunciation guide: Bowman (BOH’-min), 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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Matt Bowman
Matt Bowman
Senior Counsel, Director of Regulatory Practice
Matt Bowman serves as senior counsel and director of regulatory practice at Alliance Defending Freedom, where he focuses on the impact of administrative law on religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and family.