The City of Rockford has reached a settlement in federal litigation accusing its police department of violating the civil rights of anti-abortion protestors.
The lawsuit was filed by members of the Pro-Life Initiative, a Christian advocacy group that staged protests in Rockford. The group had protested the city’s lone abortion provider, Wayne Webster. Reportedly, he conducted his abortion clinic in an abandoned school building and antagonized pro-life protesters by hanging nun dolls pierced with sewing needles from the windows and dressing in a red devil costume. When nurses from Elgin volunteered utlrasounds from their bus parked nearby, Webster had officers from the Rockford Police Department ticket the driver for parking violations.
The clinic was reportedly closed by Illinois state officials because it failed health and safety checks.
The City is required under the settlement to amend its ordinances to protect freedom of speech and assembly. The City is liable for attorney’s fees for lawyers from the Thomas More Society that represented the plaintiffs.
Civil rights lawsuits are based on federal statute, 42 USC 1983. It provides the following:
Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress, except that in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer’s judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable.
Passed as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1871, this statute is meant to provide citizens a means of redress for violation of their constitutional rights by government agents.
The City admitted its police officers were liable for actions taken ‘under color of law,’ which in this case was the Rockford city code. The City is obligated to re-draft its ordinances and send its police officers to classes teaching them about constitutional rights.
The action was litigated in the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois under case number 08 C 50045.