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Faith & Justice

It’s official. The City of Pittsburgh has repealed a troubling ordinance that banned the distribution of pro-life leaflets.

As you may recall, last month I told you that this repeal effort was moving forward and now our legal team has received confirmation that the problematic law is now off the books – once and for all.

We filed a federal lawsuit last fall on behalf of two pro-life advocates who wanted to distribute leaflets in the City prior to last November’s election. A federal court granted our motion for an injunction halting the enforcement of the ordinance, which the City claimed was needed to control littering. In a decision, posted here, a federal judge noted that “Supreme Court decisions [s]uggest that preventing littering is simply not a sufficiently significant interest to preclude leafleting.”

In recent months, we have focused on efforts to permanently resolve this case. The City agreed to pay $35,000 in attorneys’ fees to settle the suit and agreed to repeal the ordinance. City Council approved legislation repealing it and the Mayor now has signed off on the action. A copy of the City’s resolution confirming the repeal is posted here.

We knew from the very beginning that this ordinance, which restricted leafleting in the City, violated the First Amendment free speech rights of all Pittsburghers. We’re extremely pleased that this ordinance has been repealed and that Pittsburghers can once again exercise their free speech rights through the distribution of leaflets without the fear of being fined.

This has generated quite a bit of media coverage in the Pittsburgh area. Even one influential newspaper understood that this ordinance was wrong and needed to go. In an editorial entitled – “Speech is speech: Pittsburgh must remove an offensive ban” – the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette concluded:

“The purpose of the 2008 ordinance was to restrict leafleting in the interests of curbing littering. In a city where litter is a problem, especially Downtown, the ordinance made some superficial sense. But what seems a potential source of litter to one person is free speech to another — and that right isn’t superficial, it’s fundamental.” As the Post-Gazette put it: “It doesn’t matter whether the speech takes a position that is pro-life or pro-choice – it’s all protected.”

Yes, it did take a federal lawsuit to get this resolved. Thanks to our supporters at the ACLJ, we’re able to take whatever action is needed to protect the First Amendment rights of Americans – in this case – a couple of pro-life advocates who wanted to exercise their free speech rights at election time. You can receive updates on our pro-life work by visiting the Jay Sekulow page on our website.

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