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Judge refuses to dismiss stalking order against abortion protester

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013, at 3:08 p.m.
  • Updated Sunday, Nov. 3, 2013, at 10:55 a.m.

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A Sedgwick County judge has refused to dismiss a protection from stalking order against a Wichita pastor accused of harassing the director of a Wichita clinic that provides abortions.

A lawyer for pastor Mark Holick argued at a hearing last month that his client’s actions were protected by the First Amendment. A lawyer for Trust Women director Julie Burkhart argued that Holick’s actions amounted to threats of physical violence.

Retired Sedgwick County District Judge James Beasley, in a ruling released Saturday, quoted a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in his decision to deny Holick’s request to dismiss the order.

“We have repeatedly held that individuals are not required to welcome unwanted speech into their homes, and that the government may protect this freedom,” that ruling said.

In seeking the protection from stalking order, Burkhart said that on Nov. 17, 2012, Holick went to her neighborhood and handed out wanted-style fliers containing inflammatory language about her. On Feb. 15, she said, Holick pointed a sign toward her house that read, “Where’s your church?” She said the sign referred to abortion provider George Tiller, who was shot and killed in his church by an anti-abortion extremist on May 31, 2009.

A lawyer for Holick said the fliers were protected by the First Amendment, and that the “Where’s your church” message was commonly seen at anti-abortion rallies. If the order is allowed to stand, he argued, it could set a precedent that would allow the state’s stalking law to be extended to those who participate in other protest activity.

Beasley disagreed.

“While at trial it may be shown that defendant’s acts were protected by the First Amendment, there are questions of fact (that remain) – such as what the defendant meant by the statement of “Where’s your church,” he wrote. “Counsel, in arguing the motion to dismiss, points out inconsistent meanings of the statement. The plaintiff is concerned that it references a connection to the murder of her former employer. The defendant argues that it references his concern toward the plaintiff’s need for religious affiliation. Only by testimony at trial can the meaning of the statement be discerned.”

“There are issues of fact and law that must be resolved prior to a resolution of the matter,” he wrote in summary. “Only at trial can these concerns be addressed.”

A trial date has not been set.

Reach Hurst Laviana at 316-268-6499 or hlaviana@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @hlaviana.

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