The Supreme Court will not intervene in a Colorado dispute over barring anti-abortion protestors from displaying graphic images in places where they may be seen by and upset children.
The decision lets stand a state supreme court order preventing anti-choice activists Kenneth Tyler Scott and Clifton Powell from protesting with graphic anti-abortion images outside a Denver church. According to documents from the state court proceedings, the two protesters set up an anti-choice, anti-homosexuality demonstration outside of St. John’s Church in the Wilderness on Palm Sunday in 2005. The demonstration mostly took place on the sidewalk across the street from the church, but during church services Scott and Powell took their demonstration onto church property and began disrupting services. At the time of the protest, about 200 children were present and became visibly upset. Some were so bothered by the signs and the protestors that they asked to leave the church.
The church sued the protestors, and a Colorado court issued an injunction preventing Scott from “displaying large posters or similar displays depicting gruesome images of mutilated fetuses or dead bodies in a manner reasonably likely to be viewed by children under 12.” In issuing the injunction, the Colorado court acknowledged it was limiting Scott’s speech based on its content, something the government can do only under compelling circumstances. In the case of Scott and his fellow protestors, the Colorado court ruled that the compelling circumstance was the government’s interest in “protecting children from disturbing images.”
The protestors had argued that the injunction should be overturned based on Snyder v. Phelps, the Supreme Court case that affirmed the First Amendment right of Westboro Baptist Church members to protest the funerals of military service members. By refusing to take up the case, the Supreme Court has let stand the Colorado court’s analysis, which means for now there’s a question as to whether or not First Amendment issues involving graphic images will be analyzed differently when children are involved.
The case is Scott v. St. Johns Church in the Wilderness.