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A Cleveland law that allowed the arrest of a man on a sidewalk in front of an abortion business because someone inside was "annoyed" with the sound of the business owner's voice is being appealed by a public interest law firm.
The appeal filed by the Alliance Defense Fund comes in a case involving Hugh Caughan, who twice was cited by Cleveland police after using a portable tape recorder to play a 911 recording of the voice of the owner of the Center for Women's Health, Martin Ruddock.
The tape contains a recording of Ruddock, an abortionist at the clinic, speaking to a 911 operator after complications occurred during an abortion procedure on a 30-year-old woman. “I just can't stop the bleeding. I can't see what I'm doing, and I want her out of here,” Ruddock says on the tape.
Gaughan played the recording as a way of educating women about the life-threatening dangers associated with abortion, according to the ADF, but twice was cited by police for violating a city ordinance, and now no longer can play it because he fears further arrests.
The law, however, clearly violates a U.S. Supreme Court conclusion that descriptions such as "annoying" actually set no standard and therefore cannot be enforced, according to the law firm.
"The interesting thing about this is he was regularly playing this tape, and police officers were out there every time he did it. They never changed the volume and never were arrested until there was a complaint from someone inside the clinic," ADF Senior Legal Counsel Jeff Shafer told WND.
He's coordinating the appeal of the case, which requests a review by the full U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals .
A second plaintiff, Thomas Raddell, the Cleveland area director of Operation Save America, also is involved in the case because he also has played the tape outside the clinic although he never was cited or arrested on the occasions he was there.
The lawsuit originally was filed against the city in 2005, but lower court rulings have upheld the ordinances, even though Shafer said it leaves entirely unclear what would be considered legal and what would not.
"How on earth are you able to tell what's legitimate or not," he asked, because what is "annoying" to one person isn't necessarily annoying to another. And someone with an objection to the message of speech may object to having it heard at all.
The U.S. Supreme Court has found, according to the latest appeal, that such statutes must be struck down. In a case in which a Cincinnati ordinance that banned people from gathering on a sidewalk and "annoying" passers-by, the court ruled:
"Conduct that annoys some people does not annoy others. Thus, the ordinance is vague, not in the sense that it requires a person to conform his conduct to an imprecise but comprehensive normative standard, but rather in the sense that no standard of conduct is specified at all. As a result, 'men of common intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning.'"
"The Constitution forbids municipalities from regulating the speech of its citizens through vague and overbroad ordinances," said Shafer. "The stifling of our clients' pro-life speech through the enforcement of Cleveland's hopelessly vague 'sound device' statute illustrates well why such laws are constitutionally condemned."
The city's regulations regarding sound devices give as a cause for action the "annoying" nature of the sound.
"If the City of Cleveland wants to regulate sound within its jurisdiction, it is welcome to do so," Shafer said. "But it may not accomplish this goal through imprecise laws which serve as instruments of discrimination."
ADF is a legal alliance defending the right to hear and speak the truth through strategy, training, funding, and litigation. Its lawyers argue that city laws cannot be used to keep people silent simply because "they have a viewpoint that some consider controversial."