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Arkansas Ban of Pro-Life Signs on Public Property is Unconstitutional
Thomas More Society Challenges Highway Department Censorship of Pro-Life Speech

Contact: Tom Ciesielka, TC Public Relations, 312-422-1333, tc@tcpr.net

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark., Feb. 26, 2015 /Christian Newswire/ -- Thomas More Society attorneys have sent a letter to the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department challenging the censorship of Fayetteville 40 Days for Life participants' pro-life signs. Participants in the peaceful prayer vigil outside the Fayetteville Planned Parenthood abortion facility along Highway 265 were told by a department employee that they could not display any signs during their vigil. The same department representative threatened each participant with a fine if they continued to hold the signs. The Thomas More Society contends that this demand is a blatant violation of these pro-life advocates' First Amendment rights.

"40 Days for Life volunteers are engaging in First Amendment-protected speech on a clear matter of public concern in a traditional public forum," said Corrina Konczal, Thomas More Society Associate Counsel. "Forbidding pro-lifers from holding signs on public property—simply because it happens to be next to a highway—flies in the face of 75 years of Supreme Court precedent."

For each of the eight campaigns that 40 Days for Life Fayetteville has conducted, coordinators have contacted the Fayetteville police to ensure that they would be in compliance with all relevant laws during their prayer vigil. In regards to displaying signs, the police department's only requirement was that the pro-life advocates not leave their signs on the public property while no one is present. The volunteers have always complied with this request.

However, this week a Transportation Department employee told volunteers of 40 Days for Life Fayetteville that because Highway 265 is a state highway, vigil participants could not post signs in the ground or even hold signs while standing along the road. The official further told them that all signs must be state approved, even though the vigil participants have stood only on the public property. A department representative returned on a subsequent day, stating that any person holding a sign would be fined between $25 and $100.

The Thomas More Society letter states that "The department's interpretation of the relevant law completely bans the 40 Days for Life volunteers, and an unknown multitude of other citizens who may wish to participate in unrelated events, from expressing their views along the state's many highways."

"Without the ability to hold signs explaining why we are outside of the Planned Parenthood abortion clinic, we are unable to exercise the public outreach that is a significant part of our 40 Days for Life campaign," explained Sheena Archambault, 40 Days for Life Fayetteville coordinator. "People don't know why we're standing on the sidewalk if we're not holding pro-life signs. Our free speech has been silenced, but we hope to be able to proclaim the pro-life message again soon."

The Thomas More Society has requested a response from the Arkansas Transportation Department by March 3, 2015, with acknowledgment of the pro-life advocates' right to hold signs and reassurance that their rights to free speech and free assembly will be protected for the remainder of this vigil and for all other public assemblies in the future.

Read the Thomas More Society letter to Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department here.

Pronunciation guide:
Archambault: "Ar-sham-bo"
Konczal: "CON-zul"

About the Thomas More Society
The Thomas More Society is a not-for-profit, national public interest law firm dedicated to restoring respect in law for life, family, and religious liberty. Based in Chicago, the Thomas More Society defends and fosters support for these causes by providing high quality pro bono legal services from local trial courts all the way to the United States Supreme Court.