Thursday, January 12, 2012

Wyoming sued for censoring pro-life display in Capitol

by Ben Johnson

CHEYENNE, WYOMING January 11, 2012 ( – A family advocacy organization is suing the state of Wyoming for denying its First Amendment right to erect a pro-life display on public property.

WyWatch Family Action is seeking a preliminary injunction after officials granted, then revoked, its right to host an exhibit featuring two pictures that affirm the sanctity of the unborn.

The pro-life display in the hallway in the Wyoming Capitol.

Rich Cathcart, the state’s construction manager, originally gave permission to set up a display in the Herschler Gallery, located in a hallway Wyoming legislators pass through when walking from the Capitol Building to their parking lot. One picture shows a group of women beneath the words “We Regret Our Abortions” and includes the website for the “Silent No More” campaign; the other depicts an unborn baby and a passage of Scripture. Neither image is graphic.

Cathcart told local media that people complained about congestion during a prayer circle – and about the depiction of an unborn child in his mother’s womb. 

“We clearly want to vindicate our client’s First Amendment rights in a case where we think it is very clear,” Jonathan Scruggs, the attorney who is representing WyWatch on behalf of the Alliance Defense Fund, told “You cannot discriminate against free speech simply because it is religious in content.”

WyWatch chose the gallery because it is used by influential players in state politics, including legislators and lobbyists. Scruggs said, “Our clients view it as a great forum to express their message that life begins at conception, that all life deserves protection.” They scheduled the display for February 2, the beginning of the upcoming legislative session, as the legislature is considering two new pro-life bills.

State officials say that the display and its timing amounts to lobbying. However, pro-life activists pointed out that the Wyoming Outdoor Council, the Wyoming Seat Belt Coalition, and the Wyoming Engineering Society hosted similar displays in the gallery while supporting pending legislation.

The ADF e-mailed a statement to stating, “To our knowledge, no other group had their permission withdrawn.”

“We’re not seeking special treatment. We’re seeking equal treatment,” Scruggs said. “Other people get to put displays in the gallery, and our clients should, as well.”

The state Building Commission sought legal advice about its guidelines for gallery use last spring. ADF lawyers wrote the state attorney general’s office in April seeking clarification of the policy, and arguing that free speech cannot be restricted, but the state never responded.

WyWatch Family Action is a 501(c)4 organization that describes itself as “a group of Judeo-Christian families who have a goal to preserve traditional family values in the great state of Wyoming.”

The motion, filed on January 4, accuses Wyoming officials, including the governor, the secretary of state, the treasurer, and others of violating the organization’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. WyWatch is petitioning for a declaratory judgment allowing their display to be exhibited, attorneys’ fees and a minimal award for damages.

If granted, the injunction will allow WyWatch to show its display while the case is proceeding.

“We’ve asked the judge to restore First Amendment rights to these federal buildings,” Scruggs said.

U.S. District Judge Nancy Freudenthal has scheduled the hearing for January 23 in Cheyenne.

Contact Information:
WyWatch Family Action
P.O. Box 20515
Cheyenne, WY 82003
Phone: 1(800) 691-8550

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