Despite following social distancing guidelines, members of a North Carolina pro-life group were arrested for violating a stay-at-home order by counseling outside an abortion clinic – and they are now suing local officials.
As states such as North Carolina arrest pro-lifers ministering to mothers and as Michigan shutters down churches by labeling them “non-essential,” while other states like Mississippi ticket and fine church members $500 for watching a Sunday worship service on a big screen in a parking lot from inside their closed cars and listening on their radios, many are witnessing a trend of governments using COVID-19 to take away Americans’ religious freedom.
“It's the latest example of how police in some states are arresting and ticketing pro-life charity workers,” CBN News reported. “It's all about who is – and who isn't – considered essential.”
Christians singled out?
Members of Charlotte-based pro-life group Love Life prayed for and ministered to pregnant women outside a Woman’s Choice abortion clinic in Greensboro and were arrested twice – in late March and at another facility in April – for violating the state’s COVID-19 stay-at-home order … and charged with “travel[ing] for a non-essential function,” according to the complaint.
The Christian group is being represented by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) in its lawsuit against the City of Greensboro and Guilford County, and argues that its constitutional rights guaranteed by the First Amendment have been violated.
“The government can’t allow some people to walk and talk on sidewalks and then say that these pro-life citizens can’t walk and pray there,” ADF Senior Counsel Denise Harle stated in a news release. “This was never about public health and safety; it was about the government silencing people because it doesn’t like what they have to say.”
Arrests were made because leaders at a Preferred Women’s Health Center in Charlotte were upset that sidewalk counselors continued to protest and minister outside their abortion facility – saying they were going against the county and state’s stay-at-home orders, according to the Charlotte Observer.
However, ADF argues that the pro-life counselors have every right to be there.
“If abortion businesses can stay open to perform elective abortions during the pandemic, Christians who abide by health and safety guidelines should certainly be allowed to pray outside,” Harle asserted.
In agreement, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) contended that the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s arrests of the pro-lifers was unconstitutional.
“WATCH: My friend David Benham was unconstitutionally arrested today in NC for peacefully providing pregnancy counseling outside an abortion clinic,” Cruz tweeted April 4. “If NC deems abortion ‘essential,’ then pregnancy care services are, as well. This is WRONG; Governor Cooper should be ashamed.”
COVID-19 an excuse to nominalize religion?
It is argued that attempts to save lives are being deemed by states as unnecessary – while services designed to kill lives are being considered “essential.”
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, most states across the country say abortion clinics and facilities like Planned Parenthood here in Virginia Beach are considered essential services, but what about those who are here to minister to people on the sidewalk outside these clinics?” CBN News’ Gary Lane posed. “They provide valuable services to women in a time of need.”
In Virginia Beach, Hope for Life Director Cheri Britt – whose ministry has provided a mobile bus clinic for women for five years – was issued a court summons for violating Gov. Ralph Northam’s (D-Va.) stay-at-home order
"It was just me with the ministry on the sidewalk and he said, 'You'll have to leave or I'll give you a summons,'” Britt told CBN News. “And I said, 'I don't understand why I am going to get a summons, because you know, we are providing essential services.’"
Some of Britt’s crucial services include free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds as alternatives to Planned Parenthood’s abortion services that are offered at the facility next door. In addition, the ministry gives away free good, clothing and diaper wipes to expectant mothers in need.
A licensed ultrasound technician for Hope for Life, Misty, raised issue with the state’s definition of essential.
"The opinion right now from our governor is that Planned Parenthood is essential,” Misty explained to CBN News. “If Planned Parenthood is essential, there is no question that Hope for Life is essential. These women are struggling – especially in this time right now, [desperately saying], ‘I went for my little one, couldn't even find wipes, zero wipes.’ We have wipes to give out to women.”
Britt took issue with abortionists’ reasoning for having police remove her and her counselors from in front of their clinic.
"They like to consider us as protestors, but we're not protestors – we are not out here against women … we are out here to serve women and to help women," Britt explained. "And last week, we worked hard with clothes and gave out 500 diapers and free baby hygiene and food. We're making deliveries for women who don't have vehicles and can't get out."
It was also noted that 600 babies were saved from abortion over the past five years because of Hope for Life’s free ultrasounds.
"We're not just telling a mom keep your baby … we are here to help them in the ways we are able," Misty added. "We are not able to take away everything from their struggles, but the parts that we can, and one being baby items. These people need help. Who is gonna do it? If we don't, who will?"