Liberty Counsel Defends Pastor’s Right to Speak Out on Abortion

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Columbus, MS – Today Liberty Counsel filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the City of Columbus in Mississippi and Police Captain Frederick Shelton on behalf of Pastor Stephen Joiner, who was arrested and jailed for four hours simply for holding a sign stating that abortion kills children alongside a busy intersection in the city.

The pastor from Church of the Nazarene in Columbus was charged with failure to obey Captain Shelton, who ordered him to leave the area because Shelton thought he was obstructing traffic, even though Pastor Joiner was well back from the curb and peacefully holding his sign. At trial, Captain Shelton also claimed that Pastor Joiner had violated the City Parade Ordinance, even though he was standing alone at the time of his arrest. The charges were ultimately dismissed on July 25, 2013.

“The First Amendment protects the right of citizens to express themselves on the public ways free of government interference,” said Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel. “The city’s actions were entirely unjustified and are an affront to the fundamental rights of all Americans,” Staver added. “Even unpopular speech is protected when peacefully expressed, as Pastor Joiner did here.”

The lawsuit alleges that the city’s Parade Ordinance and Handbill Ordinance, which contains a blanket prohibition on the distribution of literature in any public place, are both unconstitutional. The suit also seeks a preliminary injunction to bar enforcement of the ordinances while the lawsuit is pending.

Liberty Counsel is an international nonprofit litigation, education, and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family since 1989, by providing pro bono legal assistance and representation on these and related topics.