Benham v. City of Charlotte
Description: Police arrested and/or cited members of two Christian pro-life organizations for engaging in peaceful prayer and sidewalk counseling outside an abortion facility. The arrests shouldn’t have occurred because David Benham, president of the non-profit charity Cities4Life, and the other pro-life volunteers, members of the Christian ministry Love Life, complied with all applicable emergency orders and proclamations related to the coronavirus crisis.
ADF sues Charlotte: Talking on sidewalks allowed, unless it’s prayer outside of abortion facilities
As a letter ADF sent to the city last week explained, the arrests shouldn’t have occurred because Benham, president of the non-profit Christian charity Cities4Life, and the other pro-life individuals associated with the Christian ministry Love Life, complied with all applicable emergency orders and proclamations related to the coronavirus crisis.
“This wasn’t about public health and safety; it was about the government silencing people because it doesn’t like their point of view,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot, director of the ADF Center for Life. “We support the efforts of public officials to prioritize health and safety, but if other people are free to talk on sidewalks, people of faith should be, too. They can’t be singled out for their religious beliefs or because their form of speech is prayer or pro-life counseling. And if abortion businesses can stay open during the coronavirus crisis, non-profit organizations that provide social services to women should be allowed outside—particularly when they are abiding by health and safety guidelines, as Mr. Benham and the others were.”
Cities4Life provides counseling to pregnant women near abortion clinics in a peaceful, prayerful, and non-violent way, and also provides social services to them—including diapers, baby furniture, bottles, baby clothes, maternity clothes, groceries, and money for rent, utilities, vehicles, vehicular repair, gas, prenatal care, and follow-up ultrasounds. Love Life engages in similar types of activities.
On April 4, Benham and members of Love Life were on public sidewalks near A Preferred Women’s Health Center to pray and offer counseling and services to anyone desiring it. Mindful of both the North Carolina governor’s emergency order and the similar joint proclamation issued by the city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, Benham and the others ensured that, at all times, they were spaced at least six feet apart from any person, and that they were equipped with hand sanitizer, as required by the social distancing provisions of the order and proclamation. Their activities are also allowed under several other provisions of the proclamation. Nevertheless, Benham was cited and arrested, and so were others.
Police documents said they were in violation of the order and proclamation because 10 or more of them had assembled, but, as the ADF lawsuit explains, none of the emergency orders and proclamations place that restriction on non-profit charitable social service organizations, which is what Cities4Life and Love Life are, or on any citizens who are merely walking on public sidewalks.
“My desire is simply to do what I am legally permitted to do under the emergency orders that are in place, and that’s what I and the others have taken great care to do,” said Benham. “It makes no sense that someone can walk or ride a bike down a sidewalk, but a person can’t walk and pray there. It makes no sense that an abortion business can stay open to offer purely elective abortions during the COVID-19 pandemic but social service charity volunteers can’t pray and offer material support outside while obeying the emergency order and proclamation.”
Scott Gaylord, one of more than 3,100 attorneys allied with ADF, is serving as local counsel in the case, Benham v. City of Charlotte, filed with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, Charlotte Division.
- Pronunciation guide: Theriot (TAIR’-ee-oh)
- ADF COVID-19 resource page
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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Kevin Theriot serves as senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, where he is vice president of the Center for Life. He has litigated cases in the areas of religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family. Theriot is admitted to the bar in eight states, the U.S. Supreme Court, and numerous other federal courts of appeal and district courts. Theriot received his law degree from Vanderbilt University and has been litigating First Amendment issues since 1993.