Charter School Cannot Avoid Consequences of Chilling Free Speech

Sep 9, 2022

Even though the District of Columbia Court of Appeals unanimously reversed the lower court’s decision and ordered that Two Rivers Public Charter School’s lawsuit against pro-life sidewalk counselor, Larry Cirignano, be dismissed, the school is attempting to avoid paying attorney’s fees by claiming “immunity” from the consequences of trying to chill Cirignano’s free speech.

Liberty Counsel filed a brief to the Superior Court of the District of Columbia in response to Two Rivers claim that it is the same as “The District” (of Columbia), and therefore falls under an “emergency” amendment that the District passed to exempt itself from the Anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) law. An anti-SLAPP motion is brought to protect the valid exercise of free speech against improper lawsuits. 

However, the charter school is not “The District” and cannot claim immunity to avoid paying fees.

Two Rivers sued Cirignano after he peacefully stood on a sidewalk one time near a Planned Parenthood abortion facility situated in between an elementary and middle school in the District of Columbia. Represented by Liberty Counsel, Cirignano responded by filing an anti-SLAPP motion against the school. However, in a 3-0 decision, the Appeals Court ruled that Two Rivers has no standing to bring the lawsuit and would not succeed on the merits of its claim. 

The lawsuit by the public charter school contained one allegation that on November 23, 2015, Cirignano appeared on a public sidewalk holding a sign raising awareness about abortion. The Planned Parenthood building shares an alley with, and is located between, the two buildings of the Two Rivers. The charter school sued Cirigano even though he never trespassed on school property or otherwise broke any laws.

Liberty Counsel’s Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “Two Rivers Public Charter School cannot avoid the consequences of trying to silence the free speech of pro-life sidewalk counselor, Larry Cirignano. The appeals court has already ruled and now the school must pay for its illegal action.” 



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