Today the American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ) filed a lawsuit in federal court in Iowa on behalf of two individuals, Anthony Miano and Nicholas Rolland, challenging a state statute that infringes upon their right to advocate for the lives of the unborn outside of Planned Parenthood and other abortion clinics in Iowa.
In response to their religious convictions, our clients have conducted their pro-life outreach outside of abortion clinics for many years. They speak to individuals as they enter and leave the clinics, preach scripture from the Bible, and distribute literature to those who walk by. They are careful to not prevent anyone from passing by on the sidewalk and use no amplification devices to share their messages.
Last year, in response to his outreach activities, Mr. Miano was arrested outside of the Planned Parenthood Iowa City Health Center when an individual inside the Center called the police and claimed Mr. Miano’s pro-life and religious words were causing “distress” to those inside the building. Instead of allowing Mr. Miano to peaceably continue his activities – that are protected under the First Amendment – he was cited for disorderly conduct under Iowa Code § 723.4(2). This law makes it a misdemeanor to make a “loud and raucous noise in the vicinity of any residence or public building which causes unreasonable distress to the occupants thereof.”
In this lawsuit, we are challenging the constitutionality of the Iowa statute as it violates our clients’ rights and the rights of others. The statute is vague: it does not define “loud or raucous noise,” “unreasonable distress,” “vicinity,” or “public building.” In other words, the statute fails to give individuals – our clients and others not included in the lawsuit – notice as to what specific activities are prohibited by the law, and when or where they are prohibited from occurring. Moreover, the determination as to whether a violation of the law has occurred depends wholly upon the reaction of a third party and not on the actions of the individual conducting his free speech activities. As such, a person who does not like a message can claim “unreasonable distress” to silence the message. That is known as a “heckler’s veto,” which is unconstitutional.
Our clients have been threatened numerous times by law enforcement officers that if they continue their free speech and expressive activities outside abortion clinics that they may – and likely will – be cited under this statute again. This has caused our clients to decrease the frequency of their pro-life outreach, thereby chilling their speech and likely the speech of others who want to express their pro-life and religious views on public sidewalks outside Iowa abortion clinics.
At the ACLJ we fight to ensure that the law accords with the Constitution of the United States as written and as applied. Here, the Iowa statute fails on both accounts. We will keep you updated as we work to protect the rights of our clients to advocate for the most vulnerable among us.
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