Liberal appeals court scolds Seattle for heckler's veto of street preacher at abortion, LGBT events

Europe goes other direction by telling Jew he can't walk through pro-Palestine march, fining pro-lifers for silently praying, prosecuting MP for tweeting Bible. Canada considers legislation "Handmaid's Tale" author calls "Orwellian."
Street preacher Matthew Meinecke arrested for reading Bible at Seattle abortion rights protest against Dobbs decision

As Europe and Canada explicitly punish conservative, religious and pro-life expression in the name of safety, a U.S. city known for allowing a police-free zone in the name of racial justice went too far even for a federal appeals court known for its progressive streak.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a lower court to issue a preliminary injunction against Seattle for using unconstitutional "content-based heckler’s vetoes" against a street evangelist reading Bible passages at abortion rights and LGBT rallies during a momentous week in June 2022, when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade during Pride Month.

"It is apparent from the facts, including the video available from police body cameras, that the Seattle police directed [Matthew] Meinecke to leave the area because of the reaction his Bible-reading provoked" at Seattle PrideFest and the protest against the high court's decision that returned abortion regulation to the states, the unanimous three-judge panel ruled Thursday.

The opinion is a rebuke to the Seattle City Attorney's Office and Office of Police Accountability, which told Meinecke in a letter responding to his March 2023 complaint that the officers "properly arrested him when he refused to move," The Seattle Times reported Friday.

The City Attorney's Office told Just the News on Monday it was still reviewing the ruling before deciding how to proceed.

U.K. police had a similar response to Campaign Against Antisemitism Chief Executive Gideon Falter when he tried to pass through a pro-Palestine march Saturday after leaving his London synagogue. 

Video shows an officer telling Falter he is "quite openly Jewish" – wearing a kippah and carrying a bag adored with Stars of David – and "the reaction to your presence" could be dangerous. Falter can either leave with an escort or be arrested for "breach of peace" because his "presence here is antagonizing a large group of people," the officer says.

Finnish member of Parliament Päivi Räsänen will face a third hate-speech trial for sharing a Bible verse on X, that God created humans "male and female," under a Finland Supreme Court ruling, her lawyers at the Alliance Defending Freedom International said Friday. 

Though the Helsinki Court of Appeal unanimously dismissed all charges against Räsänen last fall, prosecutors can appeal losses in the Finnish legal system. The ongoing five-year prosecution "is the punishment" regardless of the final ruling, said ADF International Executive Director Paul Coleman.

Canada is considering legislation, the Online Harms Act (C-63), that could make "even the suspicion that a crime may be committed punishable," Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson told the U.S. Congress at a recent hearing. "Handmaid's Tale" author Margaret Atwood, also Canadian, described the bill as "Orwellian" on X, formerly Twitter, last month.

In a Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs webinar last week, Canadian legal experts expressed concern about the scope and penalties under C-63, True North reported: Canadian Human Rights Commission fines up to $70,000 and takedown orders for hate speech, and up to life in prison for advocating genocide.

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms delivered 50,000 signatures on a petition to the government against the Online Harms Act earlier this month.

Those who espouse unpopular causes in the nine Western states under 9th Circuit jurisdiction need not fear similar treatment under last week's ruling, which found that street evangelist Meinecke is likely to prevail on his First Amendment claim against Seattle police.

He has already suffered irreparable injury because the cops ordered Meinecke to move after refusing to take action against abortion-rights protesters, despite acknowledging the latter "had assaulted" him, Judge Jay Bybee wrote for the panel, appointed by presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Donald Trump. 

Paraphrasing Seattle police reports, the opinion said Antifa members were among protesters who "surrounded" Meinecke, "seized" his Bible, physically carried him "across the street, and dropped him on the pavement." One officer wrote “'Antifa’ members  ... began to fight/assault" the street evangelist.

Police arrested Meinecke for "obstructing a police officer" by refusing to cross the street, which they said created "a risk of injury" at the abortion decision rally.

They arrested him again two days later at PrideFest, where rally-goers harassed Meinecke and vandalized his Bible, when he refused to leave after police imposed what they insisted were "time, place, and manner" restrictions permissible under the First Amendment.

This time, however, police booked Meinecke, released him on bond and warned him the city could bring charges "at a later date" – an implicit threat of future arrest for the same speech.

Despite Seattle's protest, the street evangelist "easily" meets the standard for legal standing to sue the city, Bybee wrote. Meinecke has twice endured enforcement of the restrictions and said he'll keep evangelizing at "future, well-attended public events" that are "typically impromptu, in response to unpredictable political events."

The restrictions were clearly not "content-neutral," and Meinecke is challenging them only as applied to himself, the opinion says.

The judges mocked the city for "repeatedly" claiming the officers were simply enforcing time, place and manner restrictions, as if "incanting the words … transmute[d]" a content-based restriction into a content-neutral one. The phrase "appears to have been a shorthand for the convenience of the officers in maintaining order for the primary events."

No one, from the officers to the city to the lower court, claims Meinecke himself made threats, "and there is no evidence of any protester being arrested for" the actions officers documented, "including those who seized and ripped his Bible, poured water on him, took his shoes, and physically carried him across the street," Bybee wrote.

Birmingham, England police apparently ignored both their local court and the U.K. government by twice interrogating and fining March for Life U.K. Director Isabel Vaughan-Spruce in the past six months for silently praying on a public street outside an abortion clinic in a "buffer zone."

Video shows officers reading the same script in October 2023 and January 2024, asking Vaughan-Spruce whether she was "protesting" or "here to pray for the lives of unborn children" and why she couldn't stand and think elsewhere. 

She informed the second officer a court exonerated Vaughan-Spruce a year ago and police declined to prosecute her in September after a six-month investigation. Then-Home Secretary Suella Braverman issued a public letter to police in September reminding them "silent prayer, by itself, is not unlawful."

ADF International, which has represented Vaughan-Spruce, is now representing retired medical scientist Livia Tossici-Bolt in her pending trial for refusing to pay a fine for holding a sign reading "here to talk if you want" in an abortion clinic buffer zone. 

Four members of Parliament called on the Home Office last month to protect both "casual conversation" and silent prayer in the buffer zones. Independent MP Andrew Lewer implored the Home Office last week not to "cave in to the illiberal protests of the abortion lobby" by imposing "two-tier policing" in its forthcoming guidance on buffer-zone implementation.