Friday, August 8, 2008

U.S. Court of Appeals Upholds First-Amendment Right to Distribute Religious Materials

Granite City, Ill. Ordinance Restricting Distribution of Pro-Life Handbills Found Unconstitutional

CHICAGO, Ill., Aug. 8 /Christian Newswire/ -- On Thursday, August 7, 2008, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago handed down a decision upholding a federal trial court ruling that an ordinance in Granite City, Ill., regulating the manner in which individuals could distribute religious and other types of handbills was unconstitutional.

By 2-1 vote, the three-judge panel upheld an earlier decision by Federal District Judge Michael Reagan, sitting in East St. Louis. Reagan had ruled that the city violated the First Amendment when it prosecuted Donald Horina, a retired teacher and "born-again" Christian from St. Charles, Mo., for distributing pro-life literature and Gospel tracts near the Hope Clinic for Women, an outpatient surgical treatment center that provides abortions, and in other locations in Granite City.

In July 2003, Horina had placed his literature on windshields of cars parked near Hope Clinic, and was cited for violating the city ordinance prohibiting the "indiscriminate" distribution of "cards, circulars, handbills, samples of merchandise or any advertising matter whatsoever on any public street or sidewalk."

Jason Craddock, a Sauk Village, Ill. lawyer who has worked on many pro-life cases with Thomas More Society and as an affiliated lawyer with Alliance Defense Fund, filed a civil rights suit in response, and won an injunction against the city. The city then adopted a new ordinance with more specific restrictions, which also was found to be an unreasonable restriction on First-Amendment rights.

The city appealed, and the Thomas More Society, based in Chicago, joined with Alliance Defense Fund to help Craddock defend the appeal, lending him aid in briefing as well as financial support.

"This is a great victory for free speech and we are proud to be a part of it," said Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel at Thomas More Society. "We congratulate Jason Craddock on his hard work to protect our fundamental rights."