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Police deem Oregon man’s defense of life ‘offensive,’ force him to stop displaying pro-life signs

ADF attorneys file suit against city of Stayton for improper use of ordinance to silence free speech

STAYTON, Ore. — Alliance Defense Fund attorneys filed a lawsuit Thursday against the city of Stayton on behalf of a man who was approached by police officers and told he could not display his pro-life signs on a street corner.

“Pro-life advocates shouldn’t be kept from expressing their beliefs simply because city officials or others may oppose their viewpoint or find it offensive,” said ADF Senior Counsel Nate Kellum. “Our client intended to communicate a horrifying reality about abortion with his signs. The First Amendment specifically exists to protect that type of speech.”

In May 2009, Frederick “Caleb” 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--before another officer arrived on the scene with a copy of an “advertising ordinance.” Pearson was given a copy of the ordinance and left the scene. Several weeks later, Pearson returned to the street corner, but 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 with the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, ADF attorneys argue that the city violated Pearson’s constitutional 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 nearly 1,700 attorneys in the ADF alliance, is serving 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.