After free-speech lawsuit, Michigan Gov. Whitmer clarifies protesting allowed under stay-home order

Tribune Content Agency

DETROIT — A week after police ticketed a man protesting outside a Detroit abortion clinic, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer clarified her stay-home order to exempt those engaging in activity protected by the First Amendment.

Andrew Belanger filed a federal lawsuit against Whitmer and the Detroit Police Department shortly after the citation. Belanger would consider the goals of the lawsuit “accomplished” if the city agreed to dismiss the citation, said Robert Muise, a lawyer for Belanger.

Detroit police did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

On April 3, Whitmer’s office said the governor had carefully considered the orders and was “confident that these actions are lawful and necessary to protect the health and safety of Michiganders during this unprecedented public health emergency.”

But on Tuesday her office clarified online that “persons may engage in expressive activities” so long as they adhered to social distancing measures.

The Tuesday addendum “made clear what was always the case: that the constitutional protections remain in place and the governor is fully committed to protecting them,” Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said Friday.

She did not respond to questions seeking clarity on the change in tone between April 3 and Friday.

Muise, a lawyer with the conservative Ann Arbor-based American Freedom Law Center, had argued that the citation violated Muise’s First Amendement right to free speech and free exercise of religion and his 14th Amendment Right to equal protection. He further argued Belanger’s activity should have been allowed under Whitmer’s original March 23 stay-home order because it exempted outdoor activity.

Belanger was cited by Detroit police officer while “preaching, holding a pro-life sign and practicing social distancing” outside the Scotsdale Women’s Center in Detroit on March 31, according to the lawsuit.

A police officer told Belanger he was there “for a violation of a stay at home order by the governor” and issued him a misdemeanor citation for “refusing to leave, protesting outside while shutdown is in effect,” according to the lawsuit.


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