GAINESVILLE, Florida (LifeSiteNews) — A Florida city has dropped allegations of an ordinance violation against a pro-lifer who held life-affirming signs outside of an abortion facility. The charges were withdrawn before the case went to court.
Andrew Scholberg was given a $100 citation in July “for supposedly violating Gainesville’s sign ordinance at the local ‘Bread and Roses’ abortion mill,” he wrote in a summary of the incident shared with LifeSiteNews. On September 6, the city “dismissed the citation” rather than appear at the court hearing for which Scholberg had opted rather than pay the fine.
“This was a total victory,” Scholberg stated. “My attorney and I were prepared for a legal fight. But the City was more interested in collecting a fine than in defending an unconstitutional ordinance.”
“I’m glad I didn’t pay that unjust fine,” he continued, adding that “the local pro-life sidewalk counselors were delighted to hear about the victory.”
Royce Hood, a Florida attorney working on behalf of the Chicago-based Thomas More Society to represent Scholberg in the case, told LifeSiteNews via email that he “was disappointed the city withdrew their case.”
“We were prepared for a fight on the merits of the arbitrary application of the ordinance as well as on constitutional grounds. People likely have no idea that these sort of things are happening around the country. Sign ordinances being used to shut down or cite pro-lifers.”
“How many people just pay the fine?” he continued. “Our client challenges the fine by demanding a hearing. The city caved.”
Scholberg added that “the Thomas More Society stands ready, willing and able to engage with the City of Gainesville in a legal fight if the City resumes its unconstitutional harassment and bullying of pro-life activists at the local abortion mill.”
LifeSiteNews has contacted Thomas More Society founder, president and lead counsel Tom Brejcha as well as executive vice president and head of litigation Peter Breen for additional comment but did not immediately receive a response.
According to Scholberg’s written testimony, he was given the citation on July 20. The fine was for $100 “plus $21 in ‘court costs.’”
“Earlier that day, one of the pro-life activists had told me that Gainesville officials were harassing and bullying them into removing pro-life signs displayed on public property. That ticked me off,” he described. “I decided right then and there to stand up for our First Amendment rights.”
Three signs with the messages “honk for life,” “we will help you,” and “support after abortion 1-844-289-HOPE” were “illegally” placed, according to a city code enforcement officer and police officer. Scholberg explained that the sign he was holding – which read “God loves you and your baby” – was not deemed out of place, but the other three leaning “against a bush at the edge of the public sidewalk” were.
The three on the ground were “illegal” because their location was “city property rather than public property.” Scholberg said that “if I didn’t remove them, they threatened to confiscate them as ‘abandoned property’ even though I was standing right next to them, attending them.”
“They emphasized that a sign must be held up off the ground to be legal. I insisted that the code enforcement officer and police lady show me the ordinance requiring that signs be held up off the ground,” Scholberg wrote. “After a LONG private conference, the code enforcement officer and police lady returned and showed me a section of the municipal code that simply says, ‘Signs shall not be located in or on any public right-of-way.’ This blanket prohibition violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.” `
The city officials then confiscated one of the signs and dealt the citation “for not complying with the ordinance.” The requested courtroom hearing was held on September 7, although the city had dropped the citation the day before.
Scholberg’s victory comes a month after a pro-life advocate in New York won a case after being unlawfully suppressed from sharing information about abortion alternatives outside a Rochester Planned Parenthood facility. Amid the ongoing pushback being given to sidewalk counselors across the country, 14 state attorneys general have filed an amicus brief in support of a lawsuit in Westchester County, New York, which challenges a “buffer zone” law restricting pro-lifers from talking to abortion-minded women within 100 feet of an abortion facility.