Sidewalk Counselor’s Rights Upheld

Walter Hoye (right) with Joe and Ann Scheidler at the Hilo, Hawaii Right to Life conference in 2009 

Walter Hoye (right) with the League’s Joe and Ann Scheidler at the Hilo, Hawaii Right to Life conference in 2009

Veteran sidewalk counselor Walter Hoye scored a major victory last week when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals — widely regarded as the most liberal appeals court in the nation — sided with him in ruling that the City of Oakland’s “bubble zone” ordinance “unconstitutionally suppresses speech based on the content of its message.”

Pastor Hoye was the first person arrested and later convicted under the ordinance after it was adopted in May 2008, although those convictions were overturned last year.

Ordinance Enforced against Pro-Lifers, But Not Abortion Clinic “Escorts”

While the Circuit Court ruled, unfortunately, that the Oakland ordinance was constitutional as it is written (pursuant to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hill v. Colorado decision), it also ruled that the ordinance is not valid as the city applies it, because police have only enforced it against Hoye, but not other speakers, including abortion clinic “escorts” who have made a habit of surrounding him, blocking his sign that says, “Jesus loves you and your baby. Let us help,” and otherwise making it impossible for him to communicate with abortion-bound women.

It’s especially interesting to note that the Ninth Circuit Court acknowledged that in the Hill decision, the Supreme Court had not considered this type of scenario when it upheld a similar bubble zone law in Colorado, and left open the possibility that the Oakland law could be struck down entirely if Hoye could show that the ordinance as it is written affords him no alternatives for reaching his intended audience.

Clearly, this is a victory for free speech, and a step in the right direction towards securing the rights of sidewalk counselors everywhere.

National Sidewalk Counseling Symposium This Weekend

Without a doubt, Pastor Hoye’s case — and its implications for other cities with bubble zone ordinance on the books, like Chicago — will get a lot of attention at this weekend’s National Sidewalk Counseling Symposium in the Twin Cities. He will be one of the speakers at the symposium, along with Pro-Life Action League staffers Joe and Ann Scheidler and Matt Yonke, and League associate J.T. Eschbach.

Pro-Life Action Ministries has more information on the symposium here [PDF].

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