CHEYENNE, Wyo. — WyWatch Family Action is seeking a preliminary injunction in Cheyenne federal court to prevent the state from blocking an anti-abortion display during the upcoming legislative session.
The injunction is part of WyWatch’s lawsuit that claims the state violated the group’s free speech rights by removing such a display from the Herschler Gallery during the 2011 legislative session.
During legislative sessions, various organizations, often with bills they support before the Legislature, obtain permission from the state to place booths and exhibits at state-designated space in the large corridor that links the Capitol Building to the Herschler Building.
The legislators pass through the corridor to get to their cars in the Herschler Building’s underground garage.
The lawsuit, assigned to U.S. District Judge Nancy Freudenthal, names members of the state Building Commission, Gov. Matt Mead, Secretary of State Max Maxfield, Auditor Cynthia Cloud, Treasurer Joe Meyer and Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill.
Also named as a defendant is Rich Cathcart, the state’s construction manager, who serves as executive secretary to the Building Commission.
The lawsuit claims that Cathcart approved WyWatch Family Action’s request to put up a booth and display on Feb. 2 in support of two anti-abortion bills before the Legislature. He later had the display removed after getting a number of phone calls objecting to the photo exhibit, the lawsuit states.
In an affidavit, WyWatch Director Becky Vandeberge said the exhibit was to include two anti-abortion signs erected on stand-alone wooden platforms.
One sign showed a picture of an unborn baby in the womb with a Bible verse. The other sign showed a group of individuals with the caption, “We Regret Our Abortions” and included the website for the “Silent No More” awareness campaign, Vandeberge’s affidavit said.
Vandeberge said her group was denied an opportunity to communicate to legislators its message about the harm that abortions cause to unborn children and to the women carrying those children.
The Building Commission in an April meeting agreed to seek legal advice from the state attorney general’s office regarding regulation of lobbying activities in the Herschler Gallery.
Attorneys from the Alliance Defense Fund had written the attorney general’s office in April on behalf of WyWatch, objecting to the lack of a clear state policy on the exhibits.
The letter also outlined U.S. Supreme Court opinions that said speech cannot be restricted.
The WyWatch lawsuit claims the state never responded to the Alliance Defense Fund letter and never repealed or changed its vague and ambiguous policy on displays in the gallery.
That policy left the decision to allow group exhibits to Cathcart.
The Building Commission is scheduled to discuss a policy on use of state facilities for lobbying, including the gallery, and recommendations from the attorney general’s office on Jan. 18.
Mead, the chairman of the Building Commission, questioned the timing of
“In terms of the merits of the lawsuit and the legal analysis, we’ll leave that to our attorney general’s office. But the timing of this suit is a bit interesting because we will be considering a display policy for the hallway between the Herschler Building and the Capitol at our next meeting,” Mead said in a media release.
Jonathan Skruggs, one of the attorneys for the Alliance Defense Fund that filed the lawsuit, said that as far as the attorneys and WyWatch knew, the vague state policy was still in place.
“At some point, we have to act to protect our client’s First Amendment rights. Not just our client but everyone else,” Skruggs said.
“We’re not seeking special treatment. We’re seeking equal treatment,” he said. “Other people get to put displays in the gallery, and our clients should as well.”
Alliance Defense Fund is linked to a network of Christian attorneys who litigate strategic cases to preserve and reclaim constitutionally protected religious freedom, sanctity of life and the family, according to the group’s website.