ROCKFORD, IL - After more than five years of federal litigation, members of the Rockford Pro-Life Initiative have settled their federal lawsuit against the City of Rockford over the city's alleged harassment of pro-life individuals and other alleged federal civil rights violations. The agreement, reached between attorneys from the Thomas More Society and the city, will result in positive reforms and revisions of city ordinances, payment of attorney's fees, and compensation for losses suffered by the removal of pro-life advertising by members of the Pro-Life Initiative.
"We owe a solemn duty to our country as well as our clients to assure that state or municipal laws in direct conflict with the U.S. Constitution are revised to protect the fundamental rights of citizens to engage in a robust exercise of their First Amendment rights," explained Tom Brejcha, President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Society, "After over five years of litigation, we are gratified that the city of Rockford has agreed to respect these rights as a key part of our final settlement of this federal lawsuit. This settlement agreement now guarantees that Winnebago County's pro-life advocates will be able to speak out, loud and clear, in support of the truly American principle, as proclaimed in our Declaration of Independence, that the life of every human being is sacred, and endowed with an inalienable worth and dignity, from beginning to end -- that is, as biological science and DNA now prove, from conception until natural death, no matter whether 'wanted' or 'unwanted,' flawed or flawless, humble or exalted."
According to the settlement agreement, the city of Rockford, Illinois, has agreed that its governing ordinances should not violate the fundamental rights of Rockford citizens to freedom of expression and assembly. The city will be revising a specific number of its ordinances and laws and implementing a training program for the Rockford Police Department in order to properly educate law enforcement about citizens' First Amendment rights. The settlement agreement's stated goals include the prevention of any wrongful arrest of citizens, including pro-life advocates, for participation in constitutionally-protected activities.
"In the past the city of Rockford had refused on numerous occasions to protect pro-life demonstrators against threats as well as actual assaults by lawless persons hostile to the pro-life view," said Kevin Rilott, one of the primary plaintiffs in the federal suit. "We brought our lawsuit against the Rockford to compel our own city's law enforcement officials to protect pro-lifers as well as other citizens from against such public and private harms."
The settlement dictates a comprehensive policy reform on Rockford's part, mandates law enforcement education and training regarding citizen rights, requires payment by the city for the plaintiffs' legal fees as well as modest compensation for damages incurred when a pro-life bus bench advertisement was defaced and obliterated and future advertisements barred. Also, a spurious city complaint against Rilott for alleged "jaywalking" outside Webster's abortion now-shuttered abortion premises was dismissed.