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Permit requirement for pro-life signs suspended in Harford County, Md.

Agreement bars enforcement of permit requirement for hand-held signs while ADF lawsuit goes forward

BALTIMORE — A federal judge approved an agreement Friday that prohibits Harford County from enforcing a permit requirement for hand-held signs which Alliance Defense Fund attorneys and allied attorneys are challenging in court.  ADF attorneys contend the permit requirement, used against a group of pro-life advocates arrested, jailed, shackled, and/or strip searched after they held signs and shared their message along a public street in August, is unconstitutional.

“Pro-life advocates shouldn’t be punished for expressing their beliefs,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot.  “It is unconstitutional to require small groups of Christians to obtain permits to exercise their First Amendment rights in a public area like the one involved in this case.  Police used this permit requirement as part of their justification for the unacceptable treatment of our clients, who simply desired to share their pro-life message.”

In August, at least 12 police officers handcuffed 18 peaceful participants in Defend Life’s “Face the Truth” Pro-life Tour and denied them a reason for their arrests.  They had relocated to Bel Air after being told by officers to move from another location for not having a permit to engage in free speech activities, though they were never charged with violating the permit ordinance.

Three young female participants--including teenagers--were subjected to two rounds of strip searches after being charged with loitering, disorderly conduct, and failure to obey a lawful order.  The state eventually decided not to pursue the charges.  ADF attorneys filed suit on behalf of the three women on Sept. 3.  ADF-allied attorney Daniel Cox is serving as local counsel.

A federal judge’s order, agreed to by Harford County officials, prohibits the county from enforcing its permit requirement for hand-held signs while the requirement’s constitutionality is considered by the court. 

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.

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Kevin Theriot
Kevin Theriot
Senior Counsel
Kevin Theriot serves as senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom