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Harrisburg Pro-Life Speech Restriction Challenged


HARRISBURG – Liberty Counsel has asked the Third Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse a district court’s denial of a preliminary injunction against a “buffer zone” ordinance enacted by the city of Harrisburg, prohibiting pro-life speech on public sidewalks up to 70 feet outside a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic. U.S. District Judge Sylvia Rambo upheld the “buffer zone” ordinance which was drafted by Planned Parenthood and passed without debate by Harrisburg City Council. In May 2017, the Third Circuit reversed the district court’s decision. In its opinion, the Third Circuit held that the district court had ignored the First Amendment’s requirement that Harrisburg demonstrate that the ordinance did not unconstitutionally burden speech. It sent the case back to the district court, ordering the court to hold a hearing on whether Harrisburg could satisfy its demanding burden. The district court acknowledged its error, but, despite critical admissions by the city, the judge ruled the city met its burden. Liberty Counsel represents Becky Biter and Colleen Reilly, who have regularly engaged in peaceful sidewalk counseling to encourage women to protect the life of their unborn. The ordinance pushes pro-life counselors to more than 70 feet away and prohibits their freedom of speech. Mat Staver with Liberty Counsel says the city of Harrisburg has no authority to discriminate on the basis of pro life viewpoints and that public sidewalks and parks have always been protected places where people can gather to participate in the marketplace of ideas.