Summer Sale Extended! Get unlimited digital access for 13 weeks for $13.
Op-Eds
News Opinion Op-Eds

The Baltimore inquisition [Commentary]

What if any time a citizen spoke at a city council meeting to oppose a policy, the city could later order the citizen to go to court, produce all his private emails, and be interrogated by the city's lawyer?

That would be a great policy … if your goal was to suppress citizen participation in the democratic process and let corrupt government officials do whatever they want because the people are too afraid to watch over Big Brother's shoulder.

Yet that is what the city of Baltimore is trying to do right now to non-profit organizations that oppose abortion — and that are not even located in Baltimore or Maryland.

In 2010, the Baltimore City Council passed an ill-fated ordinance forcing non-profit, pro-life organizations in Baltimore, who offer free help and information to women, to include the city's abortion-friendly messages in the middle of their own communications.

Predictably, the city faced a lawsuit. The First Amendment does not allow the government to force you to speak its message. That's especially true when you aren't selling anything but are simply engaged in public advocacy of your own.

In such a case, the government is on trial. It must justify its law under the Constitution or else the law must be struck down to give freedom back to the people.

But that's when the city of Baltimore did something shocking. At the end of May, it served subpoenas in Missouri, Ohio and Virginia claiming the right to drag pro-life speakers from all over the nation into this case. It demanded that they testify and hand over thousands of emails and documents about their pro-life advocacy.

This prompted Alliance Defending Freedom to come to the defense of pro-life groups Care Net, Heartbeat International, the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates and the Vitae Foundation. All four groups contend that that city is wrong to subpoena organizations that are not parties to their lawsuit, have no offices in the city, and are located across the country.

But even worse, the only reason Baltimore thinks it can bully these national pro-life groups is because the city tried to coerce the speech of its own citizens in the first place.

No government can attack speech locally and then, when forced to justify its attack, roam the countryside conscripting other free speakers into involuntary servitude to help the city defend its unconstitutional actions.

While located in other states, these pro-life organizations have exchanged ideas with Baltimore pro-life advocates, and some of them testified against the city's coerced speech ordinance. That can't justify the city's harassment tactics, however. The First Amendment would be turned on its head if a city could drag citizens into court just for associating and speaking with like-minded people.

The city's pro-abortion allies like to claim that pro-life groups are not trustworthy. But even if you are not pro-life, do you want the government setting up its own "Grand Inquisitor" who can decide what "truth" is on abortion or other issues and then punish anyone who disagrees?

No city should be able to demand the emails, files, and testimony of a pro-life organization with which it disagrees, especially after the city got in trouble for violating the First Amendment in the first place.

Matt Bowman is senior legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom at its Center for Life in Washington, D.C. His email is media@alliancedefendingfreedom.org.

To respond to this commentary, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • The GOP isn't waging a 'war on women'

    The GOP isn't waging a 'war on women'

    Oh, how your editorial tries to make Republicans look cruel and uncaring: "it's human nature to hear the words 'heart' and 'lungs' and think potential person, with your mind making the short leap to baby" ("The GOP's never-ending war on women," Aug. 5). If the words heart and lung were coming from...

  • Abortion, like human sacrifice, must come to an end

    Abortion, like human sacrifice, must come to an end

    The Sun continues to usher in this age of universal deceit with its editorial "GOP's never-ending war on women" (Aug. 4). Is it not glaringly obvious that the "little women" being savaged by Planned Parenthood's practice meet your standards of "war?" It is unreasonable to suggest, as members of...

  • Supreme Court decisions won't limit women's rights [Letter]

    Supreme Court decisions won't limit women's rights [Letter]

    Jenny Black, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Maryland, has condemned the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision and another case striking down a Massachusetts law barring protesters from coming within 30 feet of an abortion clinic ("In 2014, why are women still struggling to get basic...

  • Needed: An honest conversation about abortion

    Needed: An honest conversation about abortion

    As Americans celebrate and reflect on the Supreme Court's landmark Roe v. Wade ruling 42 years ago, Planned Parenthood of Maryland urges lawmakers to listen to doctors and medical experts who know that legal abortion is safe and that politicians should not interfere in personal medical decisions.

  • This is why conservatives want to de-fund Planned Parenthood

    This is why conservatives want to de-fund Planned Parenthood

    Having read The Sun's recent editorial on the "GOP's never-ending war on women" (August 5), what I really glean The Sun's never ending war on Republicans in general and conservatives in particular. The editorial attempts to connect the pro-life movement's opposition to funding Planned Parenthood...

  • The GOP's never-ending war on women

    The GOP's never-ending war on women

    The GOP is once again showing it's out of touch with women, threatening a government shutdown next month over funding of Planned Parenthood in an effort to curtail abortions. Never mind that federal funds can't legally be spent on abortions except in rare cases. Never mind that abortion services...

  • War on women? Try war on babies.

    War on women? Try war on babies.

    The Sun's response to the Planned Parenthood scandal is merely parroting Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richard's response to being caught in the apparent harvesting, trafficking and selling of baby organs ("The GOP's never-ending war on women," Aug. 4). One director even haggled over the...

  • After Obamacare, do we need Planned Parenthood?

    After Obamacare, do we need Planned Parenthood?

    Regarding columnist Cal Thomas' recent commentary on Planned Parenthood, the organization exists to provide reproductive health care to those who can't afford it ("Why selling baby parts should shock no one," July 26).

Comments
Loading
72°