Wednesday, September 13, 2006

1st Amendment victory goes to Christians

Hat tip to Marti

Parade rule had restricted assembly, free speech in city

Posted: September 13, 2006
1:00 a.m. Eastern

© 2006

The city of Florence, S.C., has given up its battle to keep a city parade rule that imposed unconstitutional limits on a group called Columbia Christians for Life.

The city has agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by the pro-life organization by paying $51,000 in damages and attorneys' fees, according to a report by WBTW News 13.

The case was triggered by the arrests by Florence police of several Christians who were "peaceably assembling and exercising free speech and freedom of religion on public sidewalks without a permit from the government," according to the pro-life organization.

Florence city manager David Williams told the television station the Columbia Christians for Life had challenged a parade permit requirement that was similar to another ruled unconstitutional in Charleston and Travelers Rest.

The arrests were made on Aug. 14, 2002, after members of the organization refused to sign a permit that the city ordinance required in order to govern activities ranging from parades to processions, the station reported.

Williams also said the city has updated its ordinance to remove the sections that were at issue.

"We had a court case that indicated the language in our ordinance was perhaps unconstitutional," he told the station. "We wanted to minimize any monetary damages to the city."

He also said the city decided against fighting for the ordinance, because it wasn't being enforced anyway.

The city came out "OK," he said, since most ($35,000) of the settlement money was designated for attorneys' fees anyway.

The Christian group, of 30 members, had begun a state tour on Aug. 14, 2002, called "Show the Truth – Establishing Blood Guilt," that focused on the sanctity of human life, the evils of abortion and the message of Jesus Christ.

The demonstration in Florence was part of that campaign, officials said.

Steve Lefemine, a group leader, told WND yesterday that the tour's peaceful assemblies have continued.

"We did have tours in 2003, and 2005. Each year we had clear sailing in some cities, opposition in other cities. There's an uphill climb to establish our God-given constitutionally-protected rights of peaceable assembly, freedom of speech and freedom of religion," he said.

Lefemine and three others who were arrested each got $3,000 in damages, while four others who were at the assembly but were not arrested were awarded $1,000 each, officials said.

The First Amendment battle arose because of the city's demand for a parade permit for the abortion protesters to assemble in public. Florence Police Chief Anson Shells had said the subject of the assembly wasn't an issue, just the assembly itself

The pro-life organization noted the federal court order also ordered the city never again to enforce such requirements.

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