NC county concedes First Amendment protects sidewalk prayer
ADF attorneys favorably settle lawsuit with Mecklenburg County on behalf of two pro-life organizations
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – In settlement of a lawsuit that Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed on behalf of David Benham and members of two pro-life organizations who were arrested or cited for engaging in peaceful prayer and sidewalk counseling outside an abortion facility, Mecklenburg County officials have conceded that the First Amendment protects the pro-life citizens’ public advocacy.
As part of the settlement agreement, county officials acknowledged that “peaceful advocacy on public sidewalks and public streets is governed generally by First Amendment law regarding free speech in a traditional public forum.” Further, county officials stated that any future emergency order related to the COVID-19 pandemic will expressly allow outdoor religious gatherings and “activities of sidewalk prayer and related peaceful pro-life advocacy” that Benham, president of the nonprofit pro-life charity Cities4Life, and the other pro-life citizens, associated with the Christian ministry Love Life, were engaged in.
“The government can protect public health and safety and still respect the constitutionally guaranteed freedoms Americans have,” said ADF Senior Counsel Denise Harle, director of the ADF Center for Life. “From the beginning, this case has been about the government silencing people because it didn’t like their point of view. People of faith can’t be singled out for their religious beliefs or because their form of speech happens to be prayer or pro-life counseling. We commend Mecklenburg County officials for finally agreeing to respect the free speech rights of Mr. Benham and the other pro-life citizens and for acknowledging their freedom to pray and speak in the public square, and we invite the city of Charlotte to follow suit.”
Before ADF attorneys filed the lawsuit against Mecklenburg County and the city of Charlotte in April 2020, they sent a letter to city officials explaining that the arrests shouldn’t have occurred because the individuals complied with all applicable emergency orders and proclamations related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Prosecutors dropped all charges a few months later.
In light of the settlement, ADF attorneys on Wednesday filed a stipulated dismissal of the county from the case, Benham v. City of Charlotte, which is still active against the city of Charlotte. In the settlement, Mecklenburg County officials agreed to pay $20,000 toward the pro-life organizations’ attorneys’ fees.
- Pronunciation guide: Harle (HAR’-lee)
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, and the sanctity of life.
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