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DETROIT (ChurchMilitant.com) - The American Freedom Law Center (AFLC) filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Detroit and several Detroit police officers for prohibiting Created Equal from engaging in protected free speech activities.
The alleged violation took place during the Democratic presidential primary debates held July 30 and 31 at the Fox Theatre on Woodward Avenue in Detroit.
Created Equal, a pro-life group headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, is inspired by the vision of founder Mark Harrington to unite human rights defenders and models its initiatives on those of the Freedom Riders of the 1960s.
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan on behalf of Created Equal and Harrington on Sept. 18.
The complaint alleges Detroit and several of its police officers violated the pro-lifers' fundamental rights protected by the First, Fourth, and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution:
AFLC Co-Founder and Senior Counsel Robert Muise explained the applicability of the three amendments in this suit: First of all, the First and Fourth Amendments apply against state actors through the Fourteenth Amendment — the incorporation doctrine. But more to the point, as alleged, Mark Harrington was "seized" when he was placed in handcuffs. It doesn't take a formal arrest or booking at a police station for a seizure to occur under the Fourth Amendment. Without probable cause that Mark committed a crime (and there was none), this seizure is a violation of the Fourth Amendment.
The separate Fourteenth Amendment claim (not the incorporation issue addressed above) arises under the Equal Protection Clause. As stated by the U.S. Supreme Court, "under the Equal Protection Clause, not to mention the First Amendment itself, government may not grant the use of a forum to people whose views it finds acceptable, but deny use to those wishing to express less favored or more controversial views," which is precisely what the City and the officers did in this case. This longstanding principle of law was established in Police Department of the City of Chicago v. Mosley, 408 U.S. 92, 96 (1972).
Moreover, the lawsuit alleges that "the 'speech restrictions' had the intended effect of sanitizing and cleansing the areas immediately in front of and adjacent to the Fox Theatre of any messages that were critical of the Democrat presidential candidates and the positions and policies they supported":
From the moment we arrived, Detroit Police harassed and mistreated us. We were silenced by police several times over the course of the two days for attempting to express our free speech rights. At one point, we attempted to get as close to the Fox Theatre as possible without breaching the City's overbroad "restricted area" by crossing a church parking lot that was being used by multiple media outlets and other protestors. For that, I was handcuffed and detained.
Harrington told Church Militant, "This lawsuit is not just about our mistreatment in Detroit. We hope to not only put a stop to police state tactics there, but to send a warning to other cities hosting debates and national conventions who might attempt to employ similar bullying tactics that we will not tolerate trampling on our freedoms."
According to the AFLC, the city of Detroit "imposed draconian restrictions that prevented anyone with a message that conflicted with the policies of the candidates, particularly messages that conflicted with the candidates' radical pro-abortion policies, from reaching the debate participants and attendees."
Muise acknowledged, "The right to freedom of speech enshrined in the First Amendment is not a right to catharsis," but adding, "It is a right to meaningfully express one's message in order to influence public opinion and to affect public policy."
Muise summarized his argument: "Our Constitution does not permit such treatment."
Harrington modeled Created Equal initiatives on the Freedom Riders of the 1960s. Researching the strategies of planners and testimonies of men and women — black and white — boarding buses together to expose racism, he sketched out the modus operandi for Created Equal. Projects include campus events, urban outreach and abortion clinics.
Harrington said of his desire for the sustainability of the Created Equal activities, "If, at the end of my life, I do not see a long line of young apologists I have equipped behind me, I will have failed."
The pro-life activist acknowledged that "many police officers ... take up this mantle with integrity," adding "but in this case they acted out unlawfully on more than a few occasions and stifled our first amendment rights."
"On at least four different occasions in the span of a few hours, our pro-life views were forcefully suppressed by Detroit police while other more politically correct speech was protected," he added.
Lawrence Garcia, legal counsel for the city, told the Detroit Free Press that he believes the city's actions were justified.
"We are confident in the city's position in this case and look forward to defending it in court," Garcia said. "Beyond that we will not be commenting on this litigation."
The pro-life demonstration in downtown Detroit was organized by Dr. Monica Miller of Citizens for a Pro-Life Society and sought to bring together right-to-life advocates from across Michigan, Ohio and Indiana. It was intended to protest and make others aware of the Democrats' radical pro-abortion platform.
The police officer can be heard saying that Created Equal could demonstrate at "Grand Circus Park — three lights down." A police officer can be heard on a video saying the area Harrington and other demonstrators sought to express their pro-life message was "restricted."
Harrington responds, "Can't get near the elites — don't let them hear your voice."
"Created Equal's pro-life message will not be silenced despite attempts by abortion enablers like the city of Detroit to censor us," he said.
"We plan to be at the next presidential debate in Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, near Columbus," he told Church Militant, "the hometown of our ministry."