A Sedgwick County judge said Tuesday he will decide in five to 10 days whether 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 that his client’s actions were protected by the First Amendment’s freedom of speech guarantees. By allowing the order to stand, he argued, the judge could set a precedent that would allow the state’s stalking law to be extended to those who participate in union and gay rights protests.
“It’s plainly constitutionally protected activity,” Don McKinney said.
Erin Thompson, a lawyer for Trust Women director Julie Burkhart, argued that Holick’s actions amounted to threats of physical violence. She said any disputed facts in the case should be decided at trial, not at a motion to dismiss. She also said the Kansas Legislature intended the law to be liberally construed to protect stalking victims.
At the heart of the issue is a sign that Burkhart said Holick pointed at her home on Feb. 15 that read “Where’s your church?” Thompson said that the sign made reference to abortion provider George Tiller, who was shot and killed in his church by an anti-abortion extremist on May 31, 2009. Scott Roeder was convicted of murder in the case and is serving a 50-year sentence.
McKinney argued in his motion to dismiss that the “Where is your church?” message is commonly seen at anti-abortion rallies and is intended to urge those who see it to get their churches involved in the abortion debate.
Retired Sedgwick County District Judge James Beasley is handling the case.