Bristol, Tennessee — June 6, 2019. Center for Religious Expression (CRE) secured another victory for free speech, persuading the City of Bristol, TN to stop banning Erika Schanzenbach from ministering to women on public right-of-way next to an abortion clinic.
Mrs. Schanzenbach wants to reach women considering abortion with a Christian message about God’s love and alternatives to abortion. She knows she only has a short time to communicate with these women, leaving literature as the only way for her to convey her full message. And, the best place to hand out literature is on the right-of-way next to the aptly-named Slaughter Street, a public street right next to the entrance to the clinic. There are no sidewalks along Slaughter Street, so Erika must stand on the edge of the road, but fortunately, there is a public-right-of-way next to the driveway where she can remain out of the way of traffic.
But, in April, at the clinic’s prompting, Bristol police informed Mrs. Schanzenbach that she would no longer be allowed to hand out her literature on the public right-of-way. They asserted that standing on any portion of the pavement would be considered an obstruction of traffic – even though Mrs. Schanzenbach’s location was out of the way of traffic. Mrs. Schanzenbach tried to reason with the officers, but they insisted she must relocate to a remote sidewalk next to a highway, where she could not hand out literature to anyone.
CRE promptly sent a letter on Mrs. Schanzenbach’s behalf to Bristol city officials, reminding them that public rights-of-way have long been considered appropriate places for free speech. The letter asked Bristol to cease enforcing its obstruction law in its repressive manner. And today, Bristol agreed to do so, ensuring Mrs. Schanzenbach freedom to return and reach women with her urgently-needed message.
“Public rights-of-way are the quintessential venue for the expression of ideas,” said CRE Chief Counsel Nate Kellum. “While traffic laws are appropriate, it is not appropriate to ban speech in these areas.”
Center for Religious Expression is a servant-oriented, non-profit 501(c)(3) Christian legal organization dedicated to the glory of God and the religious freedom of His people. For more information, visit http://www.crelaw.org.
Post written by Nate Kellum, CRE Chief Counsel