Ohio Cops Face Free-Speech Suit From Anti-Abortion Protesters

TOLEDO, Ohio (CN) – Two Midwestern Christians claim in court that they are not free to express their religious beliefs outside an Ohio abortion clinic without being threatened and arrested by police.  

Anti-abortion protester Calvin Zastrow preaching outside the Capital Care Network clinic in Toledo, Ohio. (Photo courtesy of Robert J. Muise/American Freedom Law Center.)

Calvin Zastrow of Michigan and his daughter Corrie Zastrow of Ohio sued the city and several police officers in Toledo federal court Wednesday, claiming their rights to free speech, free exercise of religion and equal protection have been violated.

The Zastrows, represented by attorneys Thomas Condit in Ohio and Robert J. Muise in Michigan, say in their complaint that Toledo police have repeatedly threatened to arrest them for peacefully protesting in front of the Capital Care Network, a clinic that provides abortions.

“Plaintiffs are Christians, and they oppose abortion based on their sincerely held religious belief that abortion is an intrinsic evil,” the lawsuit states. “Plaintiffs protest abortion by engaging in prayer, preaching, worship, distributing literature and holding pro-life signs on the public sidewalks surrounding facilities where abortions are committed.”

Toledo police seem to disagree, however, allegedly telling Corrie last summer that she would be arrested for loitering if she did not stop playing Christian music on her violin in front of Capital. She claims she was also threatened with arrest for standing and holding pro-life signs.

Toledo police made good on their word and arrested Calvin for reading the Bible and preaching on the sidewalk in front of the clinic, according to the lawsuit, citing municipal code violations for menacing, obstructing official business and disorderly conduct.”

He says his criminal charges were dropped after he agreed not to sue the department for damages. Wednesday’s lawsuit seeks only declaratory and injunctive relief.

“Plaintiffs and the other pro-life demonstrators want to impact the hearts and minds of those who visit and work at Capital Care to inspire them to repent and to stop killing unborn babies through abortion,” the complaint states. “Defendants do not like the pro-lifers protesting at this abortion center.”

The Zastrows seek a court order that they can continue their “expressive religious activity” without fear of repercussions.

“This case seeks to protect and vindicate fundamental rights,” they say.

One of their attorneys, Muise, of the Michigan-based American Freedom Law Center, said in an interview that Calvin travels all over the country to preach and protest at clinics.

This is not the first run-in he has had with police or the first time he has sued them for stopping him from expressing his views, Muise added.

“His whole mission in life is to spread the word of God,” Muise said, calling his client a “committed preacher.”

The Toledo Police Department did not immediately respond Thursday to a request for comment.

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