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Sunday, June 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Christians Can Keep Protesting Sex Shops

PHILADELPHIA (CN) - A sex superstore in southeastern Pennsylvania can't enjoin a Catholic group from protesting outside its business, a federal judge ruled.

Adult World, in Montgomeryville, Pa., had hoped to get a temporary restraining order and permanent injunction against The King's Men, a Roman Catholic fraternal organization dedicated to stamping out supposed moral and familial decay.

But U.S. District Judge Petrese Tucker found last week that the relief was excessive since the group's protests do not pose immediate danger to pedestrians or motorists.

According to promotional material, The King's Men sees pornography as one of "three key battlefields for men today." The others are abortion and gay marriage.

"TKM has made a strategic decision to position our efforts against the multi-billion dollar porn industry," the group says. "We focus our energies on fighting pornography because we believe it is a root cause of abortion and the leading contributor to the destruction of marriage."

As part of its "No More Porn Tour," TKM claims to have waged a "noble battle" against porn in America by staging protests outside adult businesses. It says its efforts have shuttered six such businesses and that Adult World did not want to be the seventh.

The company's operator, Routes 202 and 309 Novelties and Gifts Inc., filed suit against TKM and TKM's directors in September. It claimed that protesters routinely buried "miraculous medals," sprinkled holy water on Adult World grounds, disrupted motorists, proselytized to the business' prospective customers or otherwise "disrupt[ed] the free use and enjoyment of real property." The suit included counts for trespass, nuisance, and violations of the First Amendment, Sherman Act and federal anti-racketeering law.

"Defendants are conspiring to limit and eliminate the business of sexually explicit material as a whole," the suit claimed.

TKM President Mark Houck, a named defendant, acknowledged in a hearing that his men have protested at Adult World more than 80 times in the past five years, but his attorney told the court that group members were protesting on a mulched area outside that store that constituted a public right of way.

U.S. District Judge Petrese Tucker refused to grant the sought-after injunction, finding it "clear that plaintiff has failed to satisfy its burden of demonstrating a likelihood of success on the merits with regard to all six claims."

Houck told Courthouse News that his organization is pleased with the decision, and that the group's protests against "houses of ill repute," including Adult World, will continue.

"This is National Pornography Awareness Week and we're going to heat up our efforts," he said.

Houck acknowledged that shuttering sex shops was one element of the "No More Porn Tour," but said "it's not our primary goal."

"Mostly our primary goal is to minister to the patrons and the workers," he said.

A critical issue in the case was whether the "decorative mulched floral area" in front of Adult World could be considered a public area where TKM could safely protest.

That area, Tucker found last week, "would likely be found a public, right of way where public use and free speech are allowable."

If Adult World has standing to bring a public nuisance claim - and that basis is unclear - "it is unlikely that such a claim would succeed given the facts that no accidents or injuries have occurred over the past five years as a result of Defendants' protest activities," the 24-page opinion states.

Tucker added that Adult World would likely fail on the private nuisance and free speech claims since the defendants are private actors peaceably addressing "matters of public concern," and "have complied with the instructions of local police in confining their picketing to the right of way in front of Adult World."

The Sherman Act and RICO claims also appear ill-starred, Tucker found.

"Plaintiff has not been forced to close its doors," the judge wrote. "Defendants have stated that ... that their 'No More Porn Tour' is meant to preserve society, and not to result in some competitive benefit to TKM, a nonprofit organization with no financial stake in the adult entertainment business. Thus, the organized protests of defendants will not likely be deemed a restraint of trade violative of the Sherman Act."

"Plaintiff has not likely met its burden concerning its RICO claim, as defendants' activities of peacefully organizing protestors in front of adult businesses cannot likely be characterized as 'racketeering activity,'" she added.

Adult World's attorney declined to comment on ongoing litigation.

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