Attorneys in Michigan say abortion workers are using PPO’s to violate the free speech rights of a pro-life activist outside an abortion clinic in the state.
Thomas More Society filed an appeal on behalf of pro-life activist, Chris Coatney who prays about six days a week outside the Summit Medical Clinic in Detroit, Michigan where abortions are performed up to 24 weeks.
According to the lawsuit, filed in the Michigan Court of Appeals, Coatney, “offers assistance and literature to those who enter the abortion clinic with the hope he might persuade them to choose a course that does not involve an abortion.”
In July of 2013, Anise Burrell, administrator at the abortion clinic who is vehemently opposed to Coatney’s views activity filed for a non-domestic personal protection order against the pro-life activist.
Thomas More Society states that Burrell periodically files these petitions in Wayne County Circuit Court where she “testifies that she is afraid of Coatney.”
This time Burrell was joined by her co-worker Kimberly Jackson who told the court that, Coatney “calls us Ku Klux Klan,” “murderer” and said she had “blood on her hands.”
According to the document, Coatney explained to court officials his belief that abortion was driven by a racist agenda and elaborated by noting that from his reading he knew that “lady who founded Planned Parenthood was a racist woman with ideas similar to Adolf Hitler. She said African Americans and other minorities were inferior and wanted to stop African Americans and other minorities from reproducing.”
Coatney conceded to the court that “some people think it’s racist for me to talk about that,” but continued “I don’t think so at all.”
According to court documents, Coatney also indicated that he had compared the act of abortion to lynching, explaining, “[f]rom what I’ve read, about 4,000 African Americans were lynched by the Ku Klux Klan…yet 18 million African American children have been murdered…as a result of the abortion industry. So I ask people, which is worse?”
During the court process, Coatney presented video he claimed would show that Burrell was not fearful of him but was laughing and mocking Courtney just weeks prior to the court date.
In contrast, Coatney also pointed out that neither Burrell or Jackson had offered any video evidence to support their claims although there were multiple cameras at the clinic.
Despite video evidence demonstrating that Burrell and colleagues were the ones threatening and abusing pro-lifers, the court granted the PPO order which stated that Coatney must be forced 500 feet away from the entrance of Summit Medical Clinic in order to “protect” Burreli and Jackson.
“In this case, the evidence of record shows that the PPO arises solely from Coatney’s speech on public sidewalks outside the Summit Medical Center. It is fundamental that free speech receives maximum protection when exercised peacefully in a traditional public forum,” the pro-life law firm states.
Thomas More Society argues that there is no evidence sufficient to support any finding that Coatney engaged in anything other than expression protected by the First Amendment.
The lawsuit they filed on behalf of Coatney states:
With blatant disregard for the plain language of Michigan’s stalking statute and the First Amendment the Circuit Court has obliged Burrell, entering baseless orders that gag Coatney’s speech outside the clinic for a year at a time. In the most recent order, the court “protected” Burrell and Jackson by prohibiting Coatney from approaching within five-hundred feet of the entrance to the clinic.
As a result, Coatney has been prevented from speaking with, or handing literature to, persons entering the clinic, or demonstrating outside the clinic in a way that allows him to reach his Intended audience.
The court below entered PPOs that are not authorized by Michigan’s stalking law, and by so doing, applied Michigan’s stalking law in a manner that violates the First Amendment.
For these reasons, explained more fully herein, the decision must be reversed and the court below must be instructed to vacate the PPOs, deny the petitions filed by Burrell and Jackson and dismiss those petitions with prejudice.
In addition, the court should be required to ensure the record of the PPOs are removed from the LEIN system.
“This protective order is a blatant attempt by opponents to shut down Mr. Coatney’s peaceful efforts to save babies and their mothers from abortion,” stated Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel, Thomas More Society. “We are appealing to free Mr. Coatney from this gag order and to uphold his free speech rights, that he may continue his witness to the sanctity of life.”
Thomas More Society attorney Patrick Gillen will present during oral arguments in the case which begins today.