Government officials in Everett, Wash., last week removed restrictions prohibiting pro-life protesters from demonstrating in front of a Planned Parenthood clinic after a religious liberty law firm threatened legal action on First Amendment grounds, the HeraldNet reported.
The city created a buffer zone earlier this year to keep pro-life and pro-choice demonstrators apart after confrontations between the two groups became a public safety concern. Time, place, and manner restrictions were also put in place. The Everett Police Department enforced the restrictions.
Neither group was allowed to convene in front of the health clinic, though pro-choice supporters were allowed to stand across the street. Pro-life protesters were told to move further away, down the street from the clinic.
"Buffer zones are enacted to protect patients from harassment and assist in keeping people safe," city spokesman Julio Cortes said in an email to the news outlet.
But restrictions were eased because "the police department concluded the risk to public safety at the Wednesday protest was minimal and removed the temporary restrictions with the belief individuals could avoid conflict without barriers or designated protest areas," Cortes said. "The restrictions were preventative and intended to be temporary."
The Thomas More Society, a Chicago-based law firm, in early May threatened legal action, citing a violation of constitutional rights.
"Banishing the pro-life side to the far corners of the street while allowing the pro-choice protesters to remain near the clinic is strong evidence of viewpoint discrimination that renders this buffer zone all the more obviously unconstitutional," Thomas More attorneys wrote to the city on May 11.
"It was a clear violation of the First Amendment rights of the pro-life sidewalk counselors," said Thomas More Society attorney Matt Heffron. "In the end, the city did the right thing. It just takes some legal pressure at times."
Everett Deputy City Attorney Ramsey Ramerman told the Washington Free Beacon that the city implemented the restrictions following a physical altercation.
"After no additional events arose for over a month, the City elected to remove restrictions," Ramerman said.
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