Defending the First Amendment

Check out this video of Christians in Dearborn, Michigan.  These are police officers actually shutting down the distribution of Christian literature on public streets.


These Christians did everything right.  A few points:

  1. They are clearly acting within their First-Amendment rights.  I’ll spare you all the court citations.
  2. They were filming everything until they were told to stop.  Pro-lifers should always bring at least one video camera; but we recommend at least two.  Video evidence will deter the police (or anyone else) from lying about the facts later.  If you end up in court, almost anyone who gives testimony in court, including police officers, will describe the events in a way that puts himself in the best light.  Video evidence will be critically important to authenticate your story.  The camera don’t lie.
  3. These guys obeyed the authorities in every respect.  It is much, much better to be a plaintiff in a civil action than a defendant in a criminal action.
  4. As I understand it, the Thomas More Law Center will be representing the Americans in bringing legal action against Dearborn and their Police Department.  The Thomas More Law Center has done great work for CBR over the years.
  5. Usually, our encounters with police are trouble-free.  The overwhelming majority of police officers are good people, but as activists, we have to be aware that (a) sometimes police officers are acting under orders from superiors who are frightened, ignorant of the law, and/or corrupt, and (b) there are some police officers who take pleasure in ordering people around just because they can.  The best policy is to always obey the authorities and sue later.  Over and over again, the courts have upheld our right to display abortion photos in public places.
  6. Where possible, we notify the police ahead of time before any of our activities.  It’s not legally required, but it gives the civil authorities time to educate themselves on (a) our right to engage in First-Amendment activities and (b) our commitment and ability to defend our rights in court.

More at:

  1. http://www.wnd.com/index.php?fa=PAGE.view&pageId=169353
  2. http://www.youtube.com/user/Acts17Apologetics
  3. http://www.abnsat.com/abnnew/

Please let me know what you think!  Please comment below.


2 Responses to “Defending the First Amendment”

  1. July 7th, 2010 at 12:19 am

    doug becker says:

    Fletcher, was this area off limits to distribution of all materials or were there others who were allowed to distribute materials during this time? If so, was some sort of permit or permission required for those others to distribute?

  2. July 7th, 2010 at 1:45 am

    Fletcher says:

    I don’t know if others were allowed to distribute or not, but it doesn’t matter. The First Amendment says that the government cannot interfere with anybody’s free speech rights. It does not include any provision to allow government interference with free speech as long as everyone’s rights are denied equally. (Of course, it is useful to ask the question, because it is especially grievous if some are denied rights and some are not, but in the end, the government cannot deny anyone’s Constitutional rights.)

    Handing out leaflets is protected by the First Amendment. See, e.g., Lovell v. City of Griffen, 303 U.S. 444, 452 (1938); Schenck v. Pro-Choice Network of Western New York, 519 U.S. 357, 377 (1997).

    The government has LIMITED power to place time, place, and manner restrictions on free speech activities.

    The standard for CONTENT-BASED restrictions on speech is that any such regulation must be necessary to serve a compelling state interest and be narrowly drawn to achieve that end. Boos v. Barry, 485 U.S. 312, 321 (1988). Furthermore, such regulations “must be subjected to the most exacting scrutiny.” Id. Only speech such as obscenity, defamation, and fighting words has been found to meet that standard. See, e.g., R.A.V. v. St. Paul, 505 U.S. 377, 383 (1992).

    The standard for CONTENT-NEUTRAL restrictions on speech is that any such regulations must be “narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest, and leave open ample alternative channels of communication.” Perry Ed. Ass’n v. Perry Local Educator’s Ass’n, 460 U.S. 37, 45 (1983). Examples of the government’s “significant interests” in speech on public property are safety and traffic flow on streets and sidewalks. Cf. Widmar v. Vincent, 454 U.S. 263, 277 (1981). On a college campus, a significant government interest would include the opportunity for students to access educational services without substantial interference. In a residential area, a significant government interest would include the opportunity for people to sleep in their homes.

    An example of an unreasonable restriction would be any attempt by the government to minimize controversy by relegating free speech activities to some obscure location. Central to the exercise of First Amendment rights is the right of access to the audience to which a statement is intended to be communicated. Precisely because protected speech is often unattractive to the majority of passersby, First Amendment speakers must be permitted to go to an audience that will not come to them.

    It is axiomatic that the First Amendment is especially protective of speech which is offensive. In fact, offensive speech is the only speech which requires protection. See, e.g., Forsyth County v. Nationalist Movement, 505 U.S. 123, 134-35 (1992) (speech cannot be “punished or banned, simply because it might offend a hostile mob”); Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15, 21 (1971) (viewers who dislike a message have a responsibility to “avoid further bombardment of their sensibilities simply by averting their eyes”); Terminiello v. City of Chicago, 337 U.S. 1, 4 (1949) (free speech “may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger”).

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