'Suppression of Speech': Second Federal Court Blocks CA Ban on Free Speech Near Vaccination Sites, Abortion Clinics
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A second federal court has blocked the enforcement of a California law that banned free speech outside of vaccination sites and abortion clinics.
The United States District Court for the Northern District of California granted the plaintiffs' motion for a temporary restraining order against the law known as SB 742 late last month.
The lawsuit was brought by Life Legal Defense Foundation Chief Legal Officer Katie Short representing activists, Teresita Aubin, David Brownfield, and Wynette Sills, who claimed the new statute violates their free speech rights under the First Amendment to the Constitution by creating a broad buffer zone around all sites in California where vaccines are administered.
The court also found that the plaintiffs demonstrated a likelihood of success with their case based on the merits of their First Amendment claim and so, U.S. Magistrate Judge Nathanael M. Cousins blocked enforcement of SB 742 in its entirety.
The judge also said the language of the law raised serious concerns about a violation of the freedom of speech.
"This language raises a very real risk that speech will necessarily be chilled in the course of enforcement of this law, even in the absence of the overbroad harassment section," Cousins wrote. "It is not at all clear how a given law enforcement official is supposed to determine, possibly from a significant distance, whether someone is approaching with the lawful purposes of educating or leafleting, as opposed to the unlawful purpose of intimidating or interfering."
The court also held that the law is not "content-neutral" because it targets only certain types of speech. Laws that are not content-neutral are subject to the highest level of judicial scrutiny.
"Life Legal is pleased that the court has carefully considered our arguments and has determined that we are likely to succeed in our lawsuit challenging this unprecedented suppression of speech on public sidewalks," said Short. "We are confident that California's assault on the First Amendment will be permanently struck down."
Law Created 30-Foot Buffer Zone Between Protesters, Vaccination Sites and Abortion Clinics
As CBN News reported in October, SB 742 created a 30-foot buffer zone between protesters and vaccination sites. The measure also included abortion clinics since Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the country recently decided to give vaccinations in addition to their usual abortion procedures.
The idea behind the law is to keep those wanting to get an inoculation from being intimidated or harassed while trying to get one. Violators could face a maximum of six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000, The Los Angeles Times had reported.
But the California Family Council says the law's definition of harassment is so broad that it restricts protected free speech like sign-holding, sidewalk counseling, and literature distribution that pro-life advocates do outside abortion clinics.
1st Federal Case - Judge Suspends Enforcement Related to Harassment
ADF attorneys argued the law restricted Right to Life's First Amendment right to peaceably offer charitable services to women in need on the public sidewalk and street outside its own building—and even its own parking lot—because Right to Life is located next to a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic that administers the HPV vaccine.
United States District Judge Dale Drozd agreed and on Oct. 30 he suspended the enforcement of SB 742, but only those provisions of the law relating to "harassment."
"No one should be prevented from getting a vaccine that wants one," said California Family Council Director of Capitol Greg Burt. "But as too often happens, state legislators enacted an overly broad law as a sledgehammer against a small problem, not caring that the statute violated the constitutional rights of Californians."
Burt added, "We warned legislators the bill violated the First Amendment, but they didn't seem to care. So crushing are these legal defeats, I doubt the California Attorney General's Office will try and defend this law any longer."
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