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Oregon town agrees to allow pro-life signs after ADF files lawsuit

City of Stayton agrees to court order that stops ordinance from being misused to squelch free speech

STAYTON, Ore. — Alliance Defense Fund attorneys secured a consent order Friday from a district court that requires the city of Stayton to allow a man to display pro-life signs on a public street corner. The city agreed to the order after ADF attorneys representing Frederick “Caleb” Pearson filed suit when a city “advertising” ordinance was used to prevent him from holding pro-life signs that exposed the true nature of abortion.

“Pro-life advocates shouldn’t be prohibited from expressing their beliefs simply because city officials or others may disagree with their viewpoint or find it offensive,” said ADF Senior Counsel Nate Kellum. “City officials made the constitutionally right decision by allowing free speech on its streets that is intended to communicate a horrifying reality about abortion through hand-held signs. The First Amendment specifically exists to protect this type of speech--speech with which some may disagree.”

In May 2009, Pearson held pro-life signs with images of aborted babies on a street corner without incident. While returning to his car, Stayton police officers approached Pearson to tell him that they were receiving a number of complaints about his signs. The officers told Pearson that they believed there was an ordinance prohibiting his expression. Soon after, another officer arrived on the scene with a copy of an “advertising” ordinance. Pearson was given a copy of the ordinance and then left. Several weeks later, Pearson returned to the street corner, this time displaying a text-only “Respect Life” sign without the images of aborted babies, and he was not stopped.

Pearson later met with a police department official who told him that any sign depicting anything “offensive” is unacceptable. Although she agreed that his “Respect Life” sign was acceptable, she said he was nonetheless required to obtain a permit to display any sign.

In the lawsuit, Pearson v. City of Stayton, filed in June with the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, ADF attorneys argued that the advertising ordinance was being misused. ADF contended that the city violated Pearson’s constitutionally protected free speech rights by requiring him to obtain a permit to display his signs and by prohibiting him from displaying signs they or others may deem “offensive.”

Kelly E. Ford of Beaverton, one of more than 1,800 attorneys in the ADF alliance, served as local counsel in the lawsuit.

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.