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On The Front Lines

Rutherford Institute Comes to the Defense of a Pro-Life Protester Cited for Violating Overly Vague Noise Ordinance Banning Sounds that Annoy or Disturb

NORMAN, Okla.  —  The Rutherford Institute has come to the aid of a pro-life protester who was cited for violating a noise ordinance banning sounds that annoy or disturb. In coming to the defense of activist Toby Harmon, Rutherford Institute attorneys plan to argue that the City of Norman, Oklahoma’s “noise disturbance” ordinance is too vague and overbroad in violation of the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of expression. If convicted, Harmon faces a sentence of 60 days in jail and a $750 fine.

Affiliate attorney Andrea Worden of the Worden Law Firm in Norman is assisting The Rutherford Institute in its defense of Harmon’s First Amendment rights.

“It may seem trivial to be debating the merits of free speech at a time when unarmed citizens are being shot, stripped, searched, choked, beaten and tasered by police for little more than daring to frown, smile, question, challenge an order, or just breathe. However, while the First Amendment provides no tangible protection against a gun wielded by a government agent, nor will it save you from being wrongly arrested or illegally searched, or having your property seized in order to fatten the wallets of government agencies, without the First Amendment, we are utterly helpless,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “The unspoken freedom enshrined in the First Amendment is the right to think freely and openly debate issues without being muzzled or treated like a criminal. Free speech zones, bubble zones, trespass zones, anti-bullying legislation, zero tolerance policies, hate crime laws, overly vague noise ordinances, and a host of other legalistic maladies dreamed up by politicians and prosecutors have conspired to corrode our core freedoms. No longer are we a nation of constitutional purists for whom the Bill of Rights serves as the ultimate authority. Instead, we have litigated and legislated our way into a new governmental framework where the dictates of petty bureaucrats carry greater weight than the inalienable rights of the citizenry.”

At least two to three times a week over the course of several months, activist Toby Harmon situated himself near the Abortion Surgery Center in the City of Norman, Okla., to preach the Christian gospel to the public and urge women entering the Center not to terminate their pregnancy. Harmon, a member of the Abolitionist Society of Norman, routinely used a small amplification device without incident in order to be heard without having to shout or scream. On March 4, 2016, Harmon was assembled near the Center along with 50 other protesters, some of whom were gathering signatures relating to state legislation, when police officers cited him for disturbing the peace. Although the City of Norman has an ordinance that regulates noise by setting specific decibel limits for sound, the officers did not measure the decibel level of Harmon’s protest activities and did not charge him for exceeding those levels. Moreover, while Harmon was originally charged with disturbing the peace, that charge was later changed to a charge of using amplifying equipment in a public place to cause a “noise disturbance.” City law defines a “noise disturbance” as “any sound which annoys or disturbs” persons or which “endangers the comfort, repose, health, hearing, peace or safety of other persons.” Harmon is scheduled to be tried in October. If convicted, he could be sentenced to 60 days in jail and fined $750.

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