Lawsuit seeks end to anti-speech ‘bubble’ zones

Madison, Wis. law creates hundreds of 320-foot-wide zones that prohibit leafleting, other free speech
Friday, February 28, 2014

Attorney sound bites:  Matt Bowman #1  |  Matt Bowman #2

MADISON, Wis. — Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a federal lawsuit and requested a court order Wednesday to block a new Madison ordinance that creates hundreds of “bubble zones” throughout the city that ban leafleting and other free speech.

Alliance Defending Freedom represents pro-life groups and individuals who are challenging the ordinance, which the city council passed Tuesday. Former NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin Director Lisa Subeck introduced and chiefly sponsored the law, which the pro-abortion group aggressively promoted.

“No one should want the government to gag speech just because it doesn’t reflect the government’s views or the views of abortionists,” said Senior Legal Counsel Matt Bowman. “The right to leaflet on a public sidewalk is a crown jewel of the First Amendment’s protection of free speech, but the city stole that jewel with its anti-speech ordinance. That ordinance is highly unconstitutional, so we have asked the court to put a stop to it.”

The ordinance imposes “bubbles” that are 320 feet in diameter and restrict free speech within them throughout the city. The bubbles exist around the entrances of every building in Madison that happens to have a licensed physician’s office, clinic, or hospital inside.

Within each bubble, no person may “approach” within eight feet of another person to leaflet, educate, display a sign, protest, or counsel any passers-by. The ordinance therefore creates such zones around hundreds of locations, including the State Capitol, the University of Wisconsin campus, and the City/County Building.

The lawsuit, Madison Vigil for Life v. City of Madison, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, explains that the ordinance violates fundamental rights “such as rights of free speech, freedom of the press, free assembly, and free exercise of religion.”

“NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin designed this law to put a muzzle on those who believe women have the right to make fully informed choices about their pregnancies,” added Bowman. “We hope the city rescinds this ordinance so that constitutionally protected free speech, not just the views of a few, will rule the day.”
  • Pronunciation guide: Bowman (BOH’-min)
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
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