A Maryland man is suing the City of Baltimore for violating his rights to free speech and exercise of religion. Thomas More Society attorneys are representing John Roswell in the federal lawsuit, filed on October 10, 2022, in United States District Court for the District of Maryland. The suit alleges that the City of Baltimore and its officials violated Roswell’s First Amendment rights.
Roswell has been advocating for life on the public right of way near the Planned Parenthood abortion center in Baltimore. For several years, he has done so regularly, peacefully exercising his First Amendment rights, engaging with women considering abortions as they approach or leave the facility. Roswell shares information and resources about life-affirming alternatives to abortion. His actions are a visible demonstration of his deeply held religious convictions that human lives are being terminated inside the Planned Parenthood facility.
As Roswell sought to establish a personal rapport with the women he encounters, he approached each in a kind and caring manner. Over the years that he has witnessed for life outside of the Baltimore abortion facility, Roswell has relied upon stand-alone A-frame signs to help him communicate information to women considering abortion. These signs, featuring photos of living babies in the womb, bear messages such as, “Unborn Babies Are Human and Feel Pain.” The signs do not impede sidewalk traffic, as they are only two and a half feet wide and less than three feet high.
In January 2020, the City of Baltimore cited and fined Roswell for having the signs next to him on the sidewalk as he engaged in dialogue with women entering and exiting the facility. Despite the constitutionally protected nature of his speech, Roswell was informed that he needed a permit for his signs, regardless of the fact that the signs went with him each time he left.
“John Roswell is a good citizen, so he set about gathering information about the permit process,” explained attorney Cameron Guenzel, Thomas More Society Special Counsel. “He learned that the signs require two permits, even though they are temporary and not affixed. Those permits can only be obtained via a costly and burdensome process, and can be granted, denied, or revoked at the unfettered discretion of the City of Baltimore and its employees.”
“The real problem,” Guenzel observed, “is that the City of Baltimore requires, for each permit, the consent of the adjacent landowner – in this case, an abortion provider that is hostile to Roswell.” Guenzel noted that he, on Roswell’s behalf, tried working with the City of Baltimore to find a solution to the dispute, but he never received any response.
Eventually, Roswell was issued a citation and fined $500 for his signs. Roswell appealed the citation, arguing that the City violated his constitutional rights. The hearing officer assigned to the case specifically declined to rule on the A-frame signs, but instead upheld the citation, based on that assertion that a sign that was touching a city utility pole. However, the hearing officer reduced the fine from $500 down to $10. In his federal lawsuit, Roswell is not challenging the $10 fine, but the City’s continued position that he cannot return to the public sidewalk with A-frame signs.
“With its restrictive permit process, where the requirement of a permit is not warranted,” added Guenzel, “the City of Baltimore is violating John Roswell’s guaranteed rights to free speech and exercise of religion.”
I wonder if he's on Merrick Garland's list.