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Archive for Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Court upholds arrest of protesters

July 28, 2004

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— A federal appeals court panel has ruled that Kansas City police officers had a right to arrest five abortion opponents who were displaying large color photographs of aborted fetuses near a busy intersection.

In a ruling issued Monday, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that the officers did not infringe on the protesters' rights to free speech and assembly.

The protesters were among a group who had set up several signs, including poster-sized pictures of aborted fetuses, along an intersection in north Kansas City on June 23, 2001. Officers asked the protesters to move their signs away from the intersection, saying they were causing a traffic hazard.

When the protesters refused to move the signs, five of them were charged under the city's loitering ordinance. The charges were later dropped, but the protesters sued the police department, alleging infringement of their First Amendment rights.

Noting that the officers asked the protesters to move the signs -- but not to take them down -- the three-judge appeals court panel ruled that the officers' main objective was to protect public safety, not to censor the content of the photographs.

"The police officers narrowly tailored the restrictions to serve a significant governmental interest and left open alternative channels of communicating their message," the court wrote.

However, Judge C. Arlen Beam issued a strong dissent, saying the officers asked the protesters to move the signs because of complaints from motorists about the graphic nature of the pictures.

"I dissent because the Constitution does not allow a small group of passers-by to censor, through their complaints, the content of a peaceful, stationary protest," Beam wrote.

Geoffrey Surtees, who represented the protesters, said further appeals were likely.

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