Interior Dept, Nat'l Park Service Sued For Revoking Pro-Life Groups' Permit

By Melanie Arter | July 7, 2008 | 8:05 PM EDT

( - A legal group filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the federal government for revoking a permit issued to pro-life groups to display pro-life signs in the nation's capital this weekend, to counter an upcoming pro-abortion march.

The American Center for Law and Justice, which specializes in constitutional law, filed the suit against Interior Secretary Gale Norton and the National Park Service on behalf of Rev. Patrick Mahoney and his group, the Christian Defense Coalition, along with Brandi Swindell, head of Idaho-based group Generation Life.

"The National Park Service maintains the sidewalks along the National Mall but it does not own them, and it cannot, barring exceptional circumstances, deny to citizens the right to use them for the purpose of expressing their views on important issues of the day," said James M. Henderson, Sr., senior counsel for ACLJ.

The National Park Service said it was revoking a permit for a demonstration, obtained by Mahoney, because the Christian Defense Coalition's pro-life message would conflict with the anticipated large scale "March for Women's Lives" on April 25.

Mahoney had been planning for up to 24 people to assemble and display pro-life signs on sidewalks adjacent to the National Mall, where pro-abortion groups are set to meet this Sunday. The National Park Service notified Mahoney and Swindell last week that their permit was revoked.

In January 1997, the National Park Service revoked a similar permit Mahoney filed to protest against partial-birth abortion during the parade following President Clinton's second inauguration.

The ACLJ then obtained an injunction from the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington to guarantee that Mahoney could protest on another public sidewalk in Washington, D.C.

"The National Park Service has adopted a policy under which decisions about who may protest or speak in public places are made based on content and viewpoint of speech. Worse, the Park Service here is depending on the whims of the private organizers of the March for Women's Lives to determine what speech to suppress," Henderson said.

The ACLJ is asking the court for injunctive relief and for an emergency hearing to clear the way for both groups to exercise their free speech rights this weekend.

The lawsuit contends that by revoking the permit, Norton and the National Park Service violated the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments of the Constitution, as well as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

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