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Sidewalk counselors challenge Harrisburg ban on free speech outside abortion centers

LifeSiteNews staff

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania., December 2, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) -- Liberty Counsel filed the opening brief in the lawsuit against the city of Harrisburg because its ordinance created unconstitutional buffer zones on public sidewalks and public property 20 feet away from abortion clinic entrances, exits, and driveways. In practice, this ordinance pushes sidewalk counselors sometimes 50 to more than 70 feet away and completely prohibits freedom of speech. The U.S. Supreme Court recently overturned similar buffer zones in McCullen v. Coakley, the unanimous decision which establishes a strong precedent in favor of this lawsuit.

Liberty Counsel represents Becky Biter and Colleen Reilly, who have regularly engaged in peaceful sidewalk counseling on the public sidewalks outside the Planned Parenthood clinic and the Hillcrest abortion facility. Since the passage of the ordinance, they have been harassed and intimated by clinic staff and the local police.

The Harrisburg City Council did not list any specific incidents that led to the passage of the ordinance. While pretending to be neutral, this ordinance discriminates based on the speaker's viewpoint. It allows pro-abortion clinic employees and agents to speak within the buffer zones but bans all pro-life speech. In addition, the city did not first seek any solutions that would cause less than complete censorship of the free speech of pro-life sidewalk counselors.

Liberty Counsel's brief states that "the ordinance has completely abolished free speech in traditional public fora used for the expression of ideas, debate, and protest—specifically, public sidewalks and streets adjacent to health care facilities, including abortion clinics, throughout the City of Harrisburg."

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"This city's blatant discrimination against these sidewalk counselors is unconstitutional," said Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel. "The city cannot prohibit them since sidewalks and parks have always been viewed as a place where we respect the marketplace of ideas. It is a dangerous position for a city to prohibit this pro-life viewpoint."

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