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Two Rivers Public Charter School filed a lawsuit Wednesday against protesters of an adjacent, under-construction Planned Parenthood facility for allegedly harassing its students, purported behavior the national organization calls “flatly inappropriate.”
“This shameful tactic is a desperate attempt by protesters to halt construction on Planned Parenthood’s new health center and administrative headquarters in Northeast D.C.,” said Dr. Laura Meyers, CEO of the organization’s Metropolitan Washington chapter, in a statement.
Two Rivers’ lawsuit, first reported by the Post, alleges that protestors have yelled “they kill kids next door” at students, have followed students and parents to school entrances, and have displayed signs with “gruesome” images “to obstruct the students’ safe passage.” The suit says the protestors may be harming the school’s reputation and ability to attract families, in addition to creating a nuisance and distressing students and staff. The complaint asks the D.C. Superior Court to file an injunction against the group, which would legally prevent them from approaching and talking to students outside. Though the suit names five individuals as defendants, a ruling would cover all who might behave similarly.
Some of the protestors named in the suit dispute the school’s claims. Robert Weiler Jr. told the Post that while he hadn’t read over the complaint, protestors had chosen not to show graphic images around students. (Weiler was once sentenced for plotting to bomb an abortion clinic in Maryland.)
Rev. Patrick Mahoney, a Presbyterian minister who founded the group Abortion-Free DC (and who is not one of the defendants), says a court ruling in the school’s favor could have a chilling effect on others’ rights to free speech. (Abortion-Free DC’s push to stop the construction of the Planned Parenthood site was the subject of a City Paper cover story.) Although members of his group are asked not to demonstrate in front of the school and not to speak to students or parents coming and going, he says people should be allowed to “articulate their views peacefully in the public square.” Asked whether he’s witnessed any of the behavior alleged in the suit, such as violent rhetoric and graphic images, Mahoney says he hasn’t: “I have not seen people talk to the students or to the teachers there.”
Planned Parenthood spokesperson Mara Kaiser Braunger tells City Desk that other PP facilities are located near schools. In fact, its 16th and L streets NW location used to be steps from the 140-student School for Arts in Learning until 2011, when the public charter closed due to finances. “There was never a proximity issue,” Braunger says.
On Wednesday, Mayor Muriel Bowser and Attorney General Karl A. Racine were quick to say that students should be allowed to access their schools without facing harassment. “We are committed to ensuring that students, teachers and parents are not harassed or otherwise intimidated by aggressive and unnecessarily inflammatory protests that go beyond the protections afforded by the First Amendment,” Racine said in a statement.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery