A federal judge has ruled that a pro-life sidewalk counselor’s lawsuit against the City of Charlotte can proceed. David Benham, who filed the lawsuit, was arrested on April 4, 2020, outside of A Preferred Women’s Health Center. Benham was attempting to counsel women who were considering abortion as they entered the facility, but he and other pro-life activists were arrested for violating the state’s COVID-19 stay-at-home order that was in place at the time. The story was first reported by LiveAction News.
Benham’s group had received confirmation from Maj. Andrew Kornberg of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department that their activities were in compliance with the city’s pandemic-related mandates. The small group was adhering to Charlotte’s “social distancing” measures that were in place at the time, according to WNG.org. Despite their compliance, Benham and his group of activists were arrested for violating the city’s temporary ban on gatherings of 10 or more people.
The city dropped its charges against the activists in 2021, but Benham and other members of the pro-life group opted to move forward with the lawsuit. “The dropping of the charges actually underscores why this amended complaint should prevail,” Denise Harle, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), told The Christian Post at the time. “What we’ve added in this amended complaint is Fourth Amendment claims, based on the unlawful stop, unlawful detention, and unlawful arrests, the fact that the city and the county dropped the charges against David Benham shows that those arrests were improper.”
In a ruling last week, U.S. District Judge Graham Mullen allowed Benham’s complaint that the order violated the freedom of religion to proceed. “Because shopping indoors is likely to present greater risk for spreading COVID-19 than socially distanced sidewalk advocacy, strict scrutiny must apply here,” Mullen wrote.
“They used this crisis as an excuse to crack down on speech they don’t like,” Benham’s attorney, Kevin Theriot, said in a statement. The case will now continue to trial, Theriot added.