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The Minnesota Supreme Court Overturns Convictions of Pro-Lifers Who Held Graphic Signs

Chicago's Thomas More Society Wins a Unanimous Ruling in Favor of Protestors Arrested for Standing on Overpass with Graphic Abortion Sign

Contact: Tom Brejcha, Thomas More Society, 312-782-1680, cell 312-590-3408; Drew Schadegg, TC Public Relations, 312-422-1333

MINNEAPOLIS, July 17 /Christian Newswire/ -- On Thursday, July 12, the Minnesota Supreme Court handed down an important ruling, reversing the criminal convictions of pro-life protesters Ron Rudnick and Luke Otterstad for displaying large signs on an overpass on two occasions in the Twin Cities suburb of Anoka, Minnesota just weeks before the 2004 national elections. One sign displayed a large color photo of the aborted infant, "Baby Malachi," while next to it was a large handwritten sign that branded a local Congressional candidate as "pro-abortion."

On both occasions the pro-lifers were arrested and jailed by Anoka police, who also took their signs. Charges of "criminal nuisance" and a violation of Anoka's sign ordinance were upheld by a trial judge. Stiff fines and prison sentences were imposed. Chicago's Thomas More Society was asked to help and underwrote an appeal, but appellate Judges upheld both convictions.

Thomas More Society reassembled its team of appellate specialists – the team that won Joe Scheidler's RICO case twice in the U.S. Supreme Court. Against "impossible" odds, Minnesota's Supreme Court allowed a further appeal. Oral arguments were held last November, and last week when a four Justice plurality ruled that the prosecution hadn't proven the signs a criminal "nuisance" or that Anoka's sign ordinance even applied. Two other Justices agreed with Justice Alan Page, former NFL star, who wrote in his concurrence that defendants' First Amendment rights were violated as the prosecution had been "content-based" – aimed at the pro-life message.

Tom Brejcha, chief counsel of the Thomas More Society states, "Graphic photos are controversial even among pro-lifers. We urge that they be used prudently and sparingly – with warning signs wherever possible. But our society has to confront the brutal, bloody realities of this murderous atrocity, as mere abstract rhetoric too often fails to trigger the deep, visceral reaction needed to overcome contemporary America's bland indifference to this carnage."

The Society's brief quoted George Orwell, who wrote that:

"In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuation of British rule in India, [and] the Russian purges and deportations...can indeed be defended, but only by argument, which are too brutal for most people to face…Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness…Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them…A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outlines and covering up all the details."

Brejcha adds, "As Orwell's quotation demonstrates, it is impossible to convey certain messages, including the message that pro-lifers Rudnick and Otterstad sought to convey – with all its emotional content – without the use of graphic anti-abortion images. The First Amendment protects political speech that is annoying and even offensive, including speech that stirs people to anger or produces deeply unsettling effects. Those who disagree with a speaker's message must not suppress or criminalize it, but answer it with more speech."

Brejcha's co-counsel were Chuck Shreffler of Mohrman & Kaardal, of Minneapolis, who was also affiliated with Alliance Defense Fund, and Alan Untereiner and Dan Walfish of Robbins, Russell, Englert, Orseck & Untereiner, of Washington, D.C.

To view a video of the oral arguments go here.

To view the opinion go here.