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Group Can’t Sue After It Held Anti-Abortion Rally

(CN) - Anti-abortion activists cannot sue the city of Charlotte, N.C., for refusing to give them an event permit since the activists were allowed to, and did, hold their "memorial" for Roe v. Wade as a demonstration without a permit, the 4th Circuit ruled.

"We are confident that the plaintiffs have not alleged any injury arising from the lack of a permit for the Roe v. Wade Memorial," the Richmond-Va.-based federal appeals panel ruled on Feb. 15. "Indeed, this is not a situation where the permit sought by the plaintiffs was a necessary prerequisite to any form of the expressive activity they wished to undertake."

Operation Save America had applied in late 2006 for a public assembly permit to hold a January 2007 event in downtown Charlotte.

A permit official for the city denied the application because the planned event, a "memorial" for Roe v. Wade was considered a demonstration that would fall under the city's picketing ordinance.

"The permit application described the event as 'evangelical, gospel proclamation, praise + worship band, local Christian pastors speaking, post-abortive mothers give testimony, call to repentance,' with a temporary stage for musical entertainment," according to the 4th Circuit's ruling.

Demonstrations require permits in Charlotte if they require traffic closures, but Operation Save America had no plans to obstruct roadways with their event and thus did not need a permit.

A city appeals official affirmed the city's original characterization of the event as a demonstration when the group challenged that finding. Operation Save America held its event in Jan. 22, 2007, without interference, the court found.

Seven months later, Operation Save America and two of its representatives filed suit against the Charlotte, the permit official and the appeals official, seeking injunctive relief and damages.

Without an injunction, the activists said that the city's permit policies would have a "chilling" effect on free speech. They further alleged that the public assembly ordinance is unconstitutionally vague and favors commercial and recreational assembly.

A federal judge granted the city summary judgment on all the claims, finding that Operation Save America failed to prove the city's decision inhibited speech.

But the activists lacked standing to sue, a three-judge panel ruled on appeal. The court vacated the summary judgment and ordered the District Court to dismiss the case on remand.

"At no time in the proceedings - in the district court or in their appeal - have the plaintiffs asserted that the planning or execution of the event would have been any different had they received a permit," Judge Robert King wrote for court.

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