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Pro-Lifers Arrested for Praying on a Public Sidewalk,
U.S. Court of Appeals Hears Case for the Fourth Time

By Sarah Zes

The target of a never ending quest to silence the Gospel of Jesus Christ, pro-life Christians are now being prosecuted for praying on a public sidewalk in the neighborhood of an abortion clinic administrator. On April 11, 2000, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit considered for the fourth time a case involving pro-lifers in Fargo, North Dakota who were arrested in 1991 for praying silently while walking up and down the sidewalk in front of an abortion clinic director's residence and five to eight other homes in her neighborhood. No signs were held, no protests made, no speech audibly uttered - yet, the police had the insolent audacity to insist that this peaceful prayer vigil was in violation of the city's residential picketing ordinance.

In 1992, a state court judge dismissed the charges filed by the city against the plaintiffs as unconstitutional. In 1993, a pro-life lawyer from Cincinnati, Ohio named Tom Condit filed a civil rights case for damages in federal court on behalf of those arrested. Although in 1995 the district court granted summary judgment to the plaintiffs and found the police officers liable for violating their constitutional rights, the city of Fargo appealed to the Eighth Circuit, which overturned the decision in 1996 (Veneklase v. City of Fargo). Since then, the Veneklase plaintiffs have won again in the district court and been overturned again in the Eighth Circuit. Mr. Condit filed a petition for an en banc review (entire panel of ten judges), which was finally granted for April 11, 2000 at 2:30 p.m.

Press Conference

To call this ridiculous restriction of God-given and First Amendment rights to account before Almighty God, a press conference was held on April 11 on the steps of the federal courthouse in St. Louis, Missouri (where the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals is located) ninety minutes before the oral arguments for the case Veneklase vs. City of Fargo were set to be heard. Bob Renaud, a survivor of the abortion holocaust and local leader of Operation Save America, was joined by the attorney for the case, Tom Condit, and area pro-lifers. After giving the facts and history of the case, Condit told the media:

"I can say this with confidence about my clients in this case: they knew the law, they knew what the Supreme Court had said about residential picketing on a similar ordinance, and they went out and walked in the neighborhood in compliance with what the Supreme Court had said was permissible. The police officers in the city of Fargo did not know about the Supreme Court case, they didn't know anything about residential picketing law, and thought wrongfully they could completely ban all picketing from residential neighborhoods ...and arrest them wrongfully. And now we're trying to just get a remedy and a declaration, not only that the constitutional rights were violated - we already had a trial for damages, and they got a little bit of money from a jury, and the court of appeals reversed it all - said, no constitutional problem with arresting people praying to themselves on a public sidewalk."

"The ramifications are - and this isn't speculation, this is how it is - is that when pro-life Christians go out to try to peacefully, lawfully protest, speak their Christian beliefs, all bets are off - anything can happen to them - that's exactly how it is in America right now."

Bob Renaud then spoke of the ramifications for this case for St. Louis:

Bob Renaud on left

"Because this case is in the 8th circuit and Missouri sits in the 8th circuit, this precedent can be carried over here into Missouri. That's why we're here today - we want to stop that - we want the court to rule that Christians can silently pray on a public sidewalk, because this summer Operation Save America is bringing their national event to St. Louis and we're going to be going out to the streets and proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ and we don't want to be silenced. The First Amendment guarantees us that right and we are not going to sit idly by while the courts just ram roughshod over our rights. If they can take the rights of the few, then they can take the rights of the many - and we're not going to allow that. As Patrick Henry said,

'It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here.'

We want the Gospel of Jesus Christ to be proclaimed - and that's why we're going to keep going forward."

It was obvious during the hearing that the opposing position by the city of Fargo (which disclaimed responsibility for any incompetent training of their police officers) and several liberal judges on the bench did not have a valid constitutional or moral basis. They attempted to complicate and confuse the real issue with smokescreens of emotional appeal for "privacy rights" and semantics over the definition of "picket," instead of dealing with the facts and free speech. Clearly, the fact that the three times Fargo's residential picketing ordinance has been enforced was only against pro-lifers leaves no doubt that their aim is really one of viewpoint discrimination.

This case is just another example of the enemy's concerted effort to eradicate every expression of Christianity and suppress the Truth through godless judicial fiat. It is time that Christians across this nation stand up against these blatant infringements of our God-given rights and refuse to passively allow the God-haters in our federal government to continue to fund and protect the religion of death and evil. Truly, the high-positioned pro-aborts' love of death (Prov. 8:36) and money (I Tim. 6:10) is only surpassed by their hatred of "those who obey God's commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus" (Rev. 12:17). Our duty as Christians is to continue to engage the forces of darkness in battle, expose them to the Truth, press forth the crown rights of King Jesus, and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ without reservation.

Please pray that the judges will rule in the fear of God when they hand down their decision for Veneklase v. City of Fargo within the next few months. The fact that this case is still being tried after eight years shows that there is definitely a split between pro-abortion and pro-life in the circuit. The decision made by the Eighth Circuit will have legal effect in the states of Iowa, Arkansas, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Nebraska, besides setting an important precedent for the nation.