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Federal Appeals Court Upholds Fla. City Ordinance Banning 'Targeted' Picketing

Federal Appeals Court Upholds Fla. City Ordinance Banning 'Targeted' Picketing

March 27, 2014 — In a case spurred by antiabortion-rights protests outside the home of a Planned Parenthood official, a federal appeals court upheld a Winter Park, Fla., ordinance that prohibits "targeted" picketing within 50 feet of a city resident's home, but it struck down another rule that more broadly banned loitering in the 50-foot zone, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

The Winter Park City Council enacted the ordinance in 2012, after antiabortion-rights protesters picketed with graphic signs in front of the home of Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando President and CEO Jenna Tosh. The council also enacted another ordinance that allowed residents to place a "no loitering" sign in their front yards and thereby create a 50-foot zone around their homes in which all protests would be prohibited. Police would be authorized to arrest anyone who violated the loitering ordinance.

Three Christian women -- Winnifred Bell, Avulla Lightfoot and Deanne Waller -- filed a lawsuit challenging the ordinances, arguing that they violated their constitutionally protected rights to free speech and the expression of religion.

Eleventh Circuit Ruling

A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the first ordinance, ruling that it ensures that residents "feel free in their own homes and safe from protests and picketing activity that targets them."

However, the judges struck down the anti-loitering measure, ruling that it "goes beyond simply allowing a private citizen to control the speech he allows on his property" but rather "permits private citizens to control the speech of other private citizens by calling the police." They added that granting private citizens such "unbridled discretion" to ban any speech near their residences was "unprecedented."

Clarissa Howard, a spokesperson for City Attorney Usher Brown, said that an amended ordinance would soon be introduced to the City Council to address the loitering provision (Hudak, Orlando Sentinel, 3/25).