Four people who regularly walk and pray outside of abortion clinics in Greensboro and Charlotte are suing Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan and police Lt. Dan Knott claiming that their Constitutional rights are being violated by the city’s enforcement of Guilford County’s stay-at-home order.
The Thomas More Society, a conservative, pro-life law firm based in Chicago, filed the lawsuit on behalf of David Troyer, a pastor at Living Waters Assembly in Mocksville; Jolene Troyer, who is David’s daughter; Paul Nisley; and Josiah Chavez. All four are residents of Mocksville who are active with the pro-life group Love Life.
Greensboro police made four arrests on March 28 and seven arrests on March 30 outside the abortion clinic A Woman’s Choice on Randleman Road for violations of the stay-at-home order. None of the plaintiff in the civil suit are among those who were arrested.
The lawsuit seeks a temporary restraining order in federal court to allow the activists to continue to pray on a public sidewalk, while claiming that the threat of arrests violates their First and Fourteenth amendment rights. They contend that their presence outside the abortion clinic was protected under both the county and state stay-at-home orders, which include exemptions that classify “outdoor activity” as “essential.”
“Prayer is still legal during this pandemic,” said Stephen Crampton, senior counsel at the Thomas More Society. “Greensboro’s Mayor Vaughan should be ashamed of herself for using the cover of this national crisis to attack public expressions of religious faith that she disagrees with. If Mayor Vaughan were truly interested in saving lives, she would shut down this abortion clinic, which is using up critical personal protective equipment needed for the COVID-19 response.”
Greensboro City Attorney Chuck Watts expressed frustration with activists insistence that they have the right to come to Greensboro to protest.
“They want to find some sort of safe harbor in the exceptions to the stay-at-home order; there are none,” he said. “Any travel is problematic. [The order] uses labels like ‘essential services’ and ‘essential business.’ It authorized you to go get fresh air and walk around. That does not mean you have a license to travel anywhere in the state or the county to get that fresh air. It’s saying if you want to walk around your house, that’s fine…. The idea that people around the state would decide to descend on Greensboro — they’re choosing to come here to protest. I have a problem with their protest. I have a problem with them traveling here. There are areas with a bigger incidence of coronavirus. They could be bringing it here. The police have to be monitoring them, and that compromises their safety.”
Vaughan said she hasn’t had an opportunity to analyze the lawsuit.
“We are living in difficult times with a worldwide health pandemic,” she said in a statement to Triad City Beat. “We are trying to balance the health and well-being of our entire community, and observe constitutionally protected rights. It is a countywide stay-at-home order asking people to restrict travel, not speech.”