Pro-life protesters who claim York,
Pa., police repeatedly violated their free speech rights while they
were handing out tracts and preaching outside the city's Planned
Parenthood clinic are taking their case to federal court.
John McTernan, Edward D. Snell, John Wood and Luanne Ferguson have
filed a civil suit against York police for being "chilled, frustrated and
deterred in the exercise of their First Amendment activities due to the
city's policy of ignoring First Amendment rights."
Their complaint states, "By denying plaintiffs the right to access
public streets with other like-minded people, [York police] denied
plaintiffs the right of assembly on account of the content of their
Attorney Dennis Boyle represents the pro-life advocates in the case.
"Essentially we have a series of arrests by the York City Police
Department that have gone to the state, and the pro-life people have been
found not guilty in the state court system," he said. "So we've filed a
federal court suit to prevent these unlawful arrests from continuing. It
is just the police officers basically trying to make life inconvenient for
the pro-life people here."
Chaplain John McTernan is a former federal agent and co-founder of the
Christian police group International
Cops for Christ. He told WND, "Since 1999 or 2000, York police's
conduct has been outrageous toward pro-life advocates at the Planned
Parenthood abortion center."
McTernan cites incidents of abuse and complacency on the part of city
police officers who are compensated by Planned Parenthood to work overtime
shifts standing outside of the clinic. Uniformed officers are said to be
paid $37.50 per hour, and they sign up for shifts on a volunteer basis.
"They watched one woman get beaten. She had to be put in the hospital,"
McTernan said. "High speed cars have attempted to run us over. We have
videos of most of it. They won't do anything."
In one incident, McTernan said an 18-wheeler tried to run over John
Holman, one of his fellow pro-life advocates. Holman jumped out of the way
to avoid the truck and was arrested for criminal trespass after he landed
on a strip of property the clinic claims to own, according to McTernan.
They submitted a video of the incident to authorities, and the charges
were later dropped.
Ferguson is being charged with criminal trespassing after approaching
the facility on a ramp that extends into the public sidewalk. A licensed
surveyor visited the property and acknowledged that the clinic was, in
fact, in the public right-of-way.
"Last I spoke with her, the doctor said she was going to have to have
an operation on her left arm because she suffered nerve damage from the
arrest," McTernan said.
McTernan wrote letters to Planned Parenthood and to Commissioner Mark
L. Whitman in November 2006, notifying them that the clinic's entire ramp,
porch, canopy and railings extend beyond the clinic's property line by
nearly three feet into the public right-of-way. Attorney Dennis Boyle said
he has provided the district attorney with evidence, including a certified
survey report and two videos, showing the exact location of the arrest.
McTernan v. City of York, a District Judge John E. Jones III ruled
against McTernan and upheld Planned Parenthood's claim to the public
property in front of the clinic. The case is being appealed, however, and
the district attorney has decided to continue with criminal trespass
charges against Ferguson.
McTernan told WND another protester was attacked and hit over the head
with a board by a pro-choice protestor. "She suffered injury to her neck
as a result of this blow that she received, but yet, they trump up charges
against us," he said.
Another pro-life advocate, Ed Snell, was charged with disorderly
conduct after attempting to hand tracts to pregnant women who were
entering the clinic. The charges were later dropped.
"Ed was injured during the arrest," McTernan said. "They ratcheted the
cuffs on him real tight. He took pictures after the arrest and you could
see the marks and swelling where they had cuffed him. He told them they
were tight and they refused to do anything."
In addition to allegedly turning a blind eye on assault, McTernan said
police do not respond when children enter the clinics for abortions. He
said some look as young as 13 years old. McTernan took pictures of the
children to the district attorney and other authorities, but he said
nothing has been done.
"We point out how young they are, and the police refuse to do
anything," he said. "You name it, and it is going on there. I've got DVDs
of me standing in front of a police officer, pointing out the kids and
saying 'look!' He asked me, 'Have you seen her birth certificate? Do you
know how old she is?'"
The city filed a civil suit against the pro-life advocates two years
ago. McTernan said it attempted to evict protesters from public property
surrounding the clinic.
"They needed criminal cases to prove we were dangerous there," he told
WND. "They had a civil suit against us and were trying to get an
injunction for a bubble zone. They lost that. That went on for about two
years. Then, there's an alley right next to the abortion clinic where we
can get close to the people going in, and we can get close to the workers.
They were trying to get convictions on us so they could get a court order
keeping us off that alley. That was their objective."
McTernan said even with his background in federal law enforcement, he
is shocked at how York police have treated pro-life advocates.
"The behavior of the York city police and the DA office is
frightening," McTernan told WND. "In all of my travels, and talking to
police as a chaplain, I have never seen such disrespect for the law and
such patronizing. They're pursuing criminal prosecution on someone they
know is innocent – in [Ferguson's] case, because her beliefs are
Officers in the police department declined to respond to WND's multiple
requests for comment.
It was just another in a series of incidents in which governmental
authorities appear to be trying to limit Christians' speech rights, based
on the content of their statements.
had reported just a day earlier, officials in St.
Petersburg, Fla., made good on their plan to limit free speech at the
city's homosexual festival by arresting five Christians for carrying signs
"wider than their torsos" outside the officially designated protest area.
Pastor Billy Ball, Assistant Pastor Doug Pitts, Frankie Primavera and
Josh Pettigrew, all of Faith
Baptist Church in Primrose, Ga., were arrested today after leaving the
area set aside by city officials for protest activities. Bill Holt, of Lighthouse
Baptist Church in Jefferson, Ga., was also taken into custody.
According to Lighthouse Pastor Kevin Whitman, the five men were told by
police their signs were not allowed outside the protest area because they
were wider than their torsos. When the men refused to put them away, they
were arrested for violating a controversial city ordinance that governs
"We had police officers tell us bigger people could carry bigger signs
than smaller people – it all depended on how big your torso was," said
Whitman, who, with several others, returned to the officially designated
protest area rather than face arrest.
WND reported, St. Petersburg officials, following disturbances at a
previous homosexual pride festival, implemented rules governing outdoor
events that set aside "free speech zones," where protesters are allowed.
The resulting ordinance came under fire by the American Civil Liberties
Union and the Alliance Defense Fund for being too broad. It allows the
city to create prior restraints of speech on an event-by-event basis, with
virtually no predictable limits. It also criminalizes certain free speech
behavior around public events and authorizes the police to enforce
breaches of permits – the penalty for such breaches being arrest.
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officials declare Constitution-free zone
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