Pro-Life Activists Targeted by the DOJ: Guest Column

Recently, the U.S. Department of Justice put pro-life protestors on trial for their role in a 2021 sit-in at an abortion facility in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee. Each protestor faces over a decade in prison, as well as hefty fines. America has a long history of civil disobedience and peaceful protests, but increasingly the state has grown quite selective in what is tolerated and what is condemned, and now, even convicted. Federal animus toward pro-life activism is increasing, as are examples of hostility from law enforcement. It’s especially odd when compared to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents who “declined to comment” about the four men who were released after beating New York police officers. 

Beyond the complexities of the immigration debate and the ethics of civil disobedience, it reflects our cultural mood in which the moral status of individuals is predetermined, based on their group rather than their behavior. The more the state reflects this mood, the more elusive justice will be. 

Copyright 2024 by the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. Reprinted from with permission.

ADF Files Amicus Brief in Lawsuit Over Forrest City Firefighter Terminated for Voicing Pro-Life Views

The Alliance Defending Freedom recently filed a friend of the court brief in the federal Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals as part of a lawsuit over Forrest City’s decision to terminate a firefighter in 2020 for expressing pro-life views online.

ADF explains:

Steven Melton, a firefighter for the city of Forrest City, Arkansas, was let go from the fire department after he posted on social media expressing his pro-life views. Melton is challenging the city for censoring his views in the public square. . . .

The following quote may be attributed to Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom, regarding a friend-of-the-court brief ADF attorneys filed Thursday on behalf of The Douglass Leadership Institute, The Radiance Foundation, and Speak for Life at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit in the case Melton v. City of Forrest City, in which a firefighter in good standing with the city had his employment terminated after he posted a pro-life image on social media:

“All Americans should be free to express viewpoints and ideas without fear of government intervention. When the government decides which topics are appropriate for debate, we all lose. As we explain in our brief, the First Amendment’s absolute bar on viewpoint discrimination protects the full-bodied discussions necessary for representative democracy to function. If the government monopolizes the marketplace of ideas, organizations like The Douglass Leadership Institute, The Radiance Foundation, and Speak for Life, which stand for life, especially Black communities that are disproportionately affected by abortion, cannot speak without fear of government reprisal. We urge the 8th Circuit to reverse the lower court decision and allow free speech to flourish for all.”

Alliance Defending Freedom is the world’s largest legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, the sanctity of life, marriage and family, and parental rights. ADF’s amicus brief provides additional background on the Forrest City case:

In June 2020, like countless Americans, Steve Melton took to Facebook to share his views on important topics. He posted an illustration of the black silhouette of a baby in the womb with a noose around his or her neck. App.147; R. Doc. 36 at 1. The caption read, “I can’t breathe!” Id. Melton—an evangelical Christian—made the post to express his opposition to abortion. App.49; R. Doc. 21-1 at 2. Melton’s friend later told him he found the post offensive because he perceived the image as a black baby with a noose around his or her neck. App.80; R. Doc. 21-4 at 5. So Melton deleted the post. Id. That should have ended the matter.

But instead of allowing citizens to dialogue on their differences, the government stepped in. It decided that it didn’t like Melton’s views. App.50–51; R. Doc. 21-1 at 3–4. Mr. Melton served as a firefighter for the Defendant City of Forrest City. App.48–49; R. Doc. 21-1 at 1–2. And the City found that his opinion—expressed on his personal social media while off duty—meant he could no longer work as a firefighter, despite an “exemplary” record. See App.49; R. Doc. 21-1 at 2.

The district court allowed the government to do something it could otherwise almost never do—punish a citizen for his private speech.

The amicus brief goes on to argue that disagreeing with the content of someone’s speech does not mean the government has the power to “restrict ‘disfavored or unpopular speech,'” and that “the government cannot allow hecklers to veto public employee views, including on abortion.”

You can read more about this case here. You can download a copy of ADF’s amicus brief here.