Florida Pro-Lifer Challenges Citation for Life-affirming Speech
September 11, 2023
Andy Scholberg has fought against abortion ever since he became a pro-life activist in 1975. He was one of the three named defendants in the monumental N.O.W. vs. Scheidler lawsuit, which ended in a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court victory for pro-lifers—and served as the impetus for Tom Brejcha to found Thomas More Society.
As a veteran pro-lifer, he is no stranger to the harassment tactics and obstacles that pro-life advocates continually face on the sidewalk as they minister to pregnant women in need.
So, on September 7, 2023—17 years after the Supreme Court unanimously returned a favorable ruling—Andy once again found himself in a court hearing ready to take a stand for the rights of pro-life advocates.
In July, Andy was sidewalk counseling at the Gainesville, Florida abortion mill—called “Bread and Roses”—when he was given a $100 citation for, supposedly, violating Gainesville’s sign ordinance. “‘Bread and Roses’ is certainly an ironic name for the strange, windowless brick building in which babies are torn apart and their mothers are exploited and wounded,” Andy commented.
A local code enforcement officer and police officer arrived on the scene of the “Bread and Roses” facility and began warning pro-life advocates that their pro-life signs were in violation of a city ordinance—threatening to confiscate the signs.
Here’s how Andy described that encounter:
I was carrying a pro-life sign that said, “God loves you and your baby.” In addition, I leaned three other pro-life signs against a bush at the edge of the public sidewalk. The
City's code enforcement officer and a police officer told me that the three signs at the edge of the public sidewalk—which they called "City property” rather than public property—were illegal.
They demanded that I remove the three signs, which said: "HONK FOR LIFE," "WE WILL HELP YOU," and "SUPPORT AFTER ABORTION 1-844-289-HOPE." If I didn't remove them, they threatened to confiscate them as "abandoned property”—even though I was standing right next to them, attending them!
They emphasized that a sign must be held up off the ground to be legal. I insisted that the code enforcement officer and police officer show me the ordinance requiring that signs be held up off the ground. After a long private conference, the code enforcement officer and police officer returned and showed me a section of the municipal code that simply says, “Signs shall not be located in or on any public right-of-way.”
For Andy, this vague provision seemed blatantly unconstitutional. Moreover, it seemed like the officers were simply inventing a restriction where none was clearly defined in the municipal code.
Here’s what happened next, according to Andy:
When the police officer grabbed—that is to say, stole—one of the three signs I was attending, I realized she was serious about confiscating them. Without thinking, I reflexively snatched it back from her—which my attorney later told me was a bad idea. I also picked up the other two signs to prevent their confiscation. A few minutes later, after I had removed all three signs reluctantly and under protest, the police officer issued me a citation for not complying with the ordinance.
Instead of paying the fine, I requested a courtroom hearing. As my attorney and I waited for my case to be called on Sept. 7, I noticed that the police officer and the code enforcement officer hadn’t shown up. My case was called, and my attorney introduced himself to the Judge. Then a representative from the City of Gainesville announced that the City had dismissed the citation the day before, saying that there wasn’t time to notify me of the dismissal.
The City backed down from collecting on the citation and defending this erroneous interpretation of the local sign ordinance:
This was a total victory! My attorney and I were prepared for a legal fight. I’m grateful to Thomas More Society, which provided me with a fine attorney, Royce Hood, who represented me pro bono.
The City was more interested in collecting a fine than in defending an unconstitutional ordinance. I’m glad I didn’t pay that unjust fine, and the local pro-life sidewalk counselors were delighted to hear about the victory.
Andy is not alone among pro-lifers in facing unwarranted harassment and citations for exercising his First Amendment rights. Especially with the proliferation of bubble and buffer zones, officials in pro-abortion municipalities regularly and increasingly attempt to clamp down on pro-life speech.
Thomas More Society stands ready to defend those who defend life against any attempt to hamper pro-life speech, because sidewalk counselors on the frontlines are often the last line of defense against abortion.