A federal judge has ruled that police in Harford County violated the constitutional rights of seven demonstrators who staged an anti-abortion display along a state highway near Bel Air three years ago.

When motorists complained about the graphic nature of the posters, the state police ordered the demonstrators, members of the Alliance Defense Fund, to leave the county. Police then arrested the group members, saying they had failed to obey a lawful order.

The ruling, issued Thursday in U.S. District Court, said police infringed on the group's right to free speech. The judge also upheld the group's claim that the arrests violated due process.

Soon after the incident, the state dropped charges, which included loitering and disorderly conduct. The case will now proceed to a jury trial for the assessment of damages only.

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

  • Text NEWS to 70701 to get Baltimore Sun local news text alerts