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Cities4Life, Love Life members cited, arrested despite abiding by terms of emergency proclamation and order related to COVID-19

Related Case: Benham v. City of Charlotte

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Alliance Defending Freedom sent a letter Wednesday to the city of Charlotte on behalf of David Benham and other Christian pro-life area citizens whom police arrested Saturday for engaging in peaceful prayer and sidewalk counseling outside an abortion facility. As the letter explains, the arrests should not have occurred because Benham, president of the non-profit charity Cities4Life, and the other pro-life volunteers, members of the Christian ministry Love Life, complied with all applicable emergency orders and proclamations related to the coronavirus crisis, as a ranking Charlotte police officer confirmed when both non-profits were outside of the abortion facility a few days earlier.

“This wasn’t about public health and safety; it was about the city silencing people because it doesn’t like their point of view,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot, director of the ADF Center for Life. “We support the efforts of public officials to prioritize health and safety, but if other groups are free to assemble, people of faith should be, too. And if abortion clinics can stay open during the coronavirus crisis, Christians should be allowed to pray and offer counseling outside—particularly those abiding by health and safety guidelines, as Mr. Benham and the others were.”

Cities4Life provides counseling to expectant mothers near abortion clinics in a peaceful, prayerful, and non-violent way, and also provides social services to expectant mothers including diapers, baby furniture, bottles, baby clothes, maternity clothes, groceries, and money for rent, utilities, vehicles, vehicular repair, gas, prenatal care, and follow-up ultrasounds. Love Life engages in similar types of activities.

On Saturday, Benham and members of Love Life walked on public sidewalks near A Preferred Women’s Health Center to pray and offer counseling and services to anyone desiring it. Mindful of both the North Carolina governor’s emergency order and the similar joint proclamation issued by the city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, Benham and the others ensured that, at all times, they were spaced at least six feet apart from any person, and that they were equipped with hand sanitizer, as required by the social distancing provisions of the order and proclamation. Their activities are also allowed under several other provisions of the proclamation. Nevertheless, Benham was cited and arrested, and so were others.

Police documents said they were in violation of the order and proclamation because 10 or more of them had assembled, but, as the ADF letter explains, none of the emergency orders and proclamations place that restriction on non-profit charitable social service organizations, which is what Cities4Life and Love Life are, or on any citizens who are merely walking on public sidewalks.

“My desire is simply to do what I am legally permitted to do under the emergency orders that are in place, and that’s what I and the others have taken great care to do,” said Benham. “It makes no sense that someone can walk or ride a bike down a sidewalk, but a person can’t walk and pray there. It makes no sense that an abortion business can stay open to offer purely elective abortions during the COVID-19 pandemic but social service charity volunteers can’t pray and offer material support outside while obeying the emergency order and proclamation.”

“It is imperative that this situation be corrected immediately to avoid unnecessary litigation in federal court,” Theriot wrote in the ADF letter regarding North Carolina v. Benham. “Please instruct any City of Charlotte officers or employees to drop all criminal charges pending against my clients and discontinue their interference with their right to engage in assembly, prayer, counseling, and other expressive activities on public property…. Please understand that I will advise Mr. Benham, Cities4Life, and Love Life of their right to take immediate legal action against the City of Charlotte if their First Amendment rights are not immediately restored.”
 
  • Pronunciation guide: Theriot (TAIR’-ee-oh)

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
 
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