In a lawsuit settlement, the City of Greensboro has agreed that it violated the First Amendment free speech rights of several pro-life protesters by barring them from accessing a sidewalk outside an abortion facility.

Greensboro police arrested the protesters — part of the ministry Love Life — in spring of 2020 for violating Guilford County’s emergency proclamation on COVID-19. The protesters were walking, praying, and offering sidewalk counseling, which the city contended violated the COVID-19 order.

The national group Alliance Defending Freedom later filed suit on behalf of the protesters. According to an ADF press release, the protesters “ensured that, at all times, fewer than 10 individuals were present in [the] group, that they were spaced at least six feet apart, and that they were equipped with sanitizer, as required by the social distancing provisions of the proclamation.”

In the settlement, Greensboro city officials admitted that the pro-life protesters were cited for their “exercise of constitutionally protected First Amendment rights,” and further agreed to uphold citizens’ First Amendment rights in any future public-health emergency proclamation. In an earlier settlement, Guilford County also agreed to pay $15,000 toward the protesters’ attorneys’ fees.

In a statement, ADF senior counsel Denise Harle pointed to political bias as motivating the actions of the city of Greensboro.

“According to Greensboro officials, praying while walking was not allowed because of COVID-19. Clearly, this case was never about public health and safety; it was about the government silencing people because it didn’t like what they had to say,” Harle said. “That said, we commend the city for finally agreeing to respect the free speech rights of Love Life members and acknowledge their freedom to pray and speak in the public square, just like every other citizen’s.”