Last April 4, pro-life advocate David Benham and nine other members of local pro-life groups Cities4Life and Love Life were arrested in Charlotte, charged with violating the city’s COVID restrictions by gathering to pray and offer sidewalk counseling outside an abortion facility
An amended federal lawsuit, filed by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) on behalf of the pro-lifers against the city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County in North Carolina, has yet to be resolved in the state’s Western District Court. ADF contends the free speech rights and religious liberty of the pro-life groups were violated.
But despite the crawl through the courts for justice, the sidewalk prayers had already born fruit while the charges were still being drawn up.
Despite the authorities’ attempts to stop the pro-lifers’ from their sidewalk advocacy, two women who visited the abortion facility on April 4 made the decision to choose life for their unborn children, said Benham.
“When [the police] were walking me to the squad car, there was a mother in the mobile ultrasound unit that was getting a free sonogram. Her name was Reena. Reena decided because of that free ultrasound when she saw her baby—she chose life.”
Now, one of the sidewalk counselors is mentoring Reena, while Cities4Life is helping provide the material resources she needs throughout her pregnancy.
In the lawsuit, Benham, co-founder of Cities4Life, argued that the pro-lifers went “above and beyond” to ensure that they followed safety guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19—including measuring six feet of distance between counselors and marking it with sidewalk chalk, having hand sanitizer readily available and limiting the number of participants to 10.
“My desire is simply to do what I am legally permitted to do under the emergency orders that are in place, and that’s what I and the others have taken great care to do,” Benham said. “It makes no sense that someone can walk or ride a bike down a sidewalk, but a person can’t walk and pray there. It makes no sense that an abortion business can stay open to offer purely elective abortions during the COVID-19 pandemic but social service charity volunteers can’t pray and offer material support outside while obeying the emergency order and proclamation.”
In a letter to Charlotte City Attorney Patrick Baker, ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot pointed out that the city’s actions against the pro-life advocates violated their First Amendment rights to free speech and religious liberty. Theriot then went on to urge the city to drop all criminal charges against Benham, Cities4Life and Love Life in order to avoid “unnecessary litigation in federal court.”
“My constitutional rights don’t go out the door because we’re in the middle of a global pandemic,” Benham said.
When the city of Charlotte decided to pursue the charges, ADF filed the initial suit, on April 18.
The city did eventually drop the charges, but ADF contended that dropping the charges didn’t change the fact that authorities unlawfully arrested the pro-lifers. Therefore, ADF submitted an amended complaint to the federal court.
“This wasn’t about public health and safety; it was about the government silencing people because it doesn’t like their point of view,” Theriot said.
Photo: Courtesy of Alliance Defending Freedom