GETTYSBURG, PA-The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania filed a federal lawsuit today against the Borough of Gettysburg on behalf of a man who was arrested for holding a pro-choice sign on a public sidewalk without first getting a municipal permit.
Bruce K. Davis, of York, was celebrating the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision last January by holding a small sign that read "Dad for Choice" in Gettysburg's public square. The lawsuit charges that police officers with the Borough of Gettysburg violated Davis' constitutional rights by illegally arresting him in order to suppress a peaceful, political message. It also alleges that the Borough of Gettysburg's public gathering ordinance is an unconstitutional restriction on people’s free-speech rights.
"It's ironic that Mr. Davis was arrested in Gettysburg, a place well-known in our country's struggle for freedom," said Paula Knudsen, an ACLU of Pennsylvania attorney who is co-counsel for the protesters. "Under the First Amendment, Gettysburg cannot demand that people get permission before holding a political sign in a public square."
Davis and other individuals demonstrated on the public sidewalk in the Gettysburg Square on January 22, 2006. Some people were there to celebrate the anniversary of Roe v. Wade while others were protesting the nomination of then-Judge Alito to the United States Supreme Court. Davis was approached by a Gettysburg Borough Police Officer and asked whether he had a permit to rally. Davis did not have such a permit. Soon after, Davis was arrested.
He was eventually charged with resisting arrest; violation of a Borough ordinance; disorderly conduct; and failure of disorderly persons to disperse upon official order. After several court hearings all criminal charges were either withdrawn or dismissed.
"I exercised my free speech rights, guaranteed by the Constitution. I was forced to deal with the humiliation of arrest and the hassle of a drawn-out court case. Yes, I could have paid a fine and been done with the whole mess, but then I thought, no, that isn't right, " Davis said. "Our Constitutional rights don’t stop at the borough or city limits. Our rights are with us no matter where we go."
The ACLU recently filed a similar lawsuit on behalf of central Pennsylvania protesters. In Egolf et al. v. East Lampeter Township et al., six protesters challenged restrictions on their freedom of speech after being arrested at a 2004 campaign appearance by President Bush in Lancaster County. The protesters reenacted a scene from the Abu Ghraib torture scandal by stripping down to thong underwear. That case is currently before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.
The ACLU also recently litigated another case on behalf of protesters in York County. In Dobson et al. v. Springettsbury Township the ACLU filed suit to prohibit Springettsbury Township from collecting fees from a man who obtained a permit for a march and rally by grassroots activists on behalf of immigration detainees housed in York County Prison. That case settled in October 2005.
Davis successfully challenged his arrest with the help of Steve Rice, Esq., who is a criminal defense attorney in Gettysburg. Rice is also co-counsel in the civil suit – Davis v. Borough of Gettysburg – filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.
"As an attorney, I take the Constitution and the rights it affords to citizens very seriously," Rice said. "I have nothing but the utmost respect for Bruce and his willingness to carry this further to protect our freedoms here in Gettysburg."