The lawsuit was filed by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) on behalf of David Benham (pictured above) and other pro-life citizens who ADF says were wrongfully arrested in April 2020 for peaceful prayer and sidewalk counseling outside an abortion clinic during COVID.
"In this circumstance, the government took advantage of a crisis to silence speech that it did not like," says ADF attorney Erica Steinmiller-Perdomo.
According to ADF, Benham – president of Cities4Life – and pro-life volunteers from Love Life complied with all applicable emergency orders and proclamations related to the pandemic, and therefore should not have been arrested. The arrests were caught on camera.
As part of the settlement, county officials acknowledged that "peaceful advocacy on public sidewalks and public streets is governed generally by First Amendment law regarding free speech in a traditional public forum."
Meanwhile, Steinmiller-Perdomo says county officials stated that any future emergency order related to the COVID-19 pandemic will expressly allow outdoor religious gatherings and "activities of sidewalk prayer and related peaceful pro-life advocacy" that Benham and the other pro-life citizens were engaged in.
"This is a clear case of government targeting religious groups and shutting down charitable work just because it doesn't agree with the message," says the ADF attorney. "So, this settlement with Mecklenberg County is a victory for free speech rights and assures that even during a crisis, the First Amendment can't be thrown out the window."