Last week we took a critical step toward resolution in our lawsuit to defend pro-life advocates against an unconstitutional state law that could lead to their prosecution just for spreading a message of hope and peace outside abortion clinics.
On Wednesday, April 10th, the parties filed their trial briefs in the case Miano, et al v. Miller, et al, in federal court in the Southern District of Iowa. The ACLJ represents the Plaintiffs in the matter who are challenging the constitutionality of Iowa Code § 723.4(2), which makes it a criminal misdemeanor to make “loud and raucous noise in the vicinity of any residence or public building which causes unreasonable distress to the occupants thereof.”
Our clients conduct pro-life activities on the public sidewalks outside of abortion clinics – including Planned Parenthood – in Iowa, including reading aloud from the Bible, open-air preaching, and speaking to individuals as they walk to and from the clinics. One of our clients has faced citation, prosecution, and conviction under the statute, and both clients continue to face threats of future prosecution for their pro-life speech activities.
In our trial brief, we explain that commenting on matters of public concern, such as abortion, through the spoken word, prayer, and distribution of literature is speech that lies at the heart of the First Amendment and is given the greatest protection from government infringement on public sidewalks. As the Supreme Court stated in a case argued by the ACLJ, Pleasant Grove City v. Summum, sidewalks are “held in trust for the use of the public and, time out of mind, have been used for purposes of assembly, communicating thoughts between citizens, and discussing public questions.”
This Iowa law has chilled our clients’ speech and we have asked the Court to declare it invalid and enjoin Defendants from using it against our clients in the future. As the Supreme Court has stated, “The loss of First Amendment freedoms, for even minimal periods of time, unquestionably constitutes irreparable injury.”
Additionally, we argue that the Iowa law as written, and as applied to our clients, is overbroad and vague in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. The statute can be used to prosecute speech that is protected by the First Amendment, and fails to provide notice to our clients, and to others, about what precisely is prohibited by the law. This is a violation of the rights of our clients protected by the Constitution.
At its worst, the statute allows for a “heckler’s veto,” empowering an annoyed listener to silence a message with which he disagrees by claiming arbitrary and undefined “distress.” Violation of the statute actually turns on the reaction of the listener; therefore, our clients, and others, cannot know whether their actions might be considered criminal until a listener decides whether he is distressed by what he hears. This is unconstitutional.
We are preparing for oral argument in this case scheduled for later this month. We will continue to bring you updates on this case as it progresses. We appreciate your prayers and support as we work on behalf of our clients, the mothers they seek to reach with their message of hope and peace, and the unborn babies they hope to save.
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