AUSTIN, Texas (LifeSiteNews) – In a major First Amendment victory, the Texas Supreme Court unanimously ruled February 24, 2023 that pro-life advocate Mark Lee Dickson was expressing a constitutionally protected opinion – and therefore cannot be sued for defamation – when he called pro-abortion groups “criminal organizations” that “murder unborn children.” Dickson’s attorneys included Former Texas Solicitor General Jonathan Mitchell, Martin Whittaker, and Tom Brejcha, President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Society.
The director of Right to Life of East Texas and founder of Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn Initiative, Dickson was sued in two separate lawsuits by The Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity, the Afiya Center, and Texas Equal Access Fund for defamation after he made statements accusing the pro-abortion groups of participating in the “murder of innocent unborn human beings.” Right to Life of East Texas was a co-defendant in the 2020 lawsuits. In addition, Dickson had been the only non-government defendant in a federal lawsuit challenging the 2021 Texas Heartbeat Act, which allows private citizens to file civil suits against abortionists and others who aid and abet in abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that this earlier case against Dickson should be dismissed.
“The U.S. Constitution gives every individual the right to speak, write or publish opinions about any subject, with the First Amendment providing that Congress shall make no law abridging free speech,” noted Brejcha. “Mark Lee Dickson did not make any false claims that these pro-abortion groups had been convicted of any crimes. However, his statements were factually truthful because Texas law prohibiting abortions, enacted before Roe v. Wade, was never repealed. The federal judiciary has no authority to erase statutes even if it declares them unconstitutional.”
Dickson made his social media posts as part of his support of proposed municipal ordinances declaring abortions to be murderous similar to the 2019 Waskom, Texas Ordinance providing that abortion is “an act of murder with malice aforethought.” Dickson had lobbied the Waskom City Council to pass the ordinance declaring the town a “Sanctuary City for the Unborn.” He encouraged supporters to sign online petitions in support of such proposed ordinances. More than 60 cities in Texas, Ohio, Nebraska, Louisiana, Iowa and New Mexico have passed similar ordinances, leading abortion facilities to relocate or stay away, even when Roe v. Wade was still the law of the land.
“Mr. Dickson’s speech reflected his pro-life advocacy and strongly held opinion that abortion is murder,” Brejcha said. “The main argument against abortion is that it constitutes an unjust killing of another’s human life – in essence murder; therefore, his goal is to criminalize abortion.”
In response to this victory in working with the Thomas More Society, Dickson said, “I am thankful for all who were involved in this case, including the Thomas More Society. Pro-life truth in Texas has been set free. I hope that every organization that promotes abortion gets out of the baby-murdering business entirely.”
In its ruling, the court noted it is essential to look at the “entire context” of Dickson’s statement, concluding that a reasonable person would not have believed that the remarks encouraged or threatened violence and were not “intended to be taken literally.”
Brejcha concluded, “Clearly, Mark’s speech intended to protect the lives of women and their unborn babies, and this victory seals his right to that conviction.”
Read the Texas Supreme Court’s decision here.