TEMPE, AZ — October 22, 2013. Sean Williams filed a Complaint, along with a Motion for Preliminary Injunction, against the City of Tempe and city officials in federal district court of Arizona, challenging a noise law that criminalizes speech deemed by others to be “unreasonable” or “offensive.” Williams is represented by Center for Religious Expression (CRE).
Williams wants to share his pro-life views on a public sidewalk bordering a commercial strip mall in Tempe where a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic is located. Because the clinic sits a significant distance away from the public sidewalk, Williams likes to use a 44-ounce cup with the bottom cut out to direct his voice so as to be heard by those entering or exiting the clinic. But on January 19, 2013, he was stopped by a Tempe police officer who threatened him with arrest for using the cup, saying the speech violated section 20-11 of the Tempe Code that proscribes “unnecessary” and “offensive” noise. Fearing arrest, Williams gave up use of the cup, but he was stopped by Tempe police officers again on March 12, 2013 and ordered to refrain from even raising his voice or face arrest for violating the same law.
By eliminating his ability to be heard, the enforcement of section 20-11 denies Williams any opportunity to share his message. “The right to be heard is an essential component of the right to speak,” said CRE Chief Counsel Nate Kellum. “This vague law not only allows but facilitates a heckler’s veto, giving those who disagree with the pro-life message the power to shut it down.”
Williams attempted to resolve the matter informally with the city, but the city attorney stood behind the actions of the police officers. Kellum added: “Williams seeks relief in federal court so he can share a life-affirming message on the public way.”