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In early August, a Chicago grad student was arrested for disorderly conduct for standing on a public sidewalk and praying. The Northwestern University student says he held a rosary outside a Planned Parenthood facility in early July when police approached him and told him a new ordinance had been passed and because he’d disregarded it, they were placing him under arrest. Joseph Holland says he did not know the new law even existed. Whether or not he was aware of it, A. Harrison Barnes, lawyer and founder says the law is clear. The “Bubble Zone” ordinance states a person cannot approach another person uninvited with the goal of “passing a leaflet or handbill to, displaying a sign to or engaging in oral protest, education or counseling” within 50 feet of any health care facility.

Holland insists he was quietly praying with his rosary when one of the Planned Parenthood volunteers approached him and began yelling at him. He and his attorney claim the building itself does not have a bubble and in fact, the volunteer was not in compliance with the ordinance. He may have a case, say many legal experts. The founder agrees. “It’s an uncomfortable quagmire because in this country, we hold dear the right to worship and pray as we choose”. If it’s true the young man was quietly praying and in essence minding his own business, it’s likely going to feel more than a little uncomfortable for someone to tell him he can’t do so. Still, and until those important details are determined, this is going to be a case that’s watched around the country.

He also says he never voiced a word to any passersby, volunteers with Planned Parenthood or even the worker who approached him and began yelling. He says his efforts to explain to the responding officer went unnoticed. “I tried to talk to the officer first and explain that the building doesn’t have an eight foot bubble and that I did not talk to anyone…I’m praying to God, not talking to people…basically, he said me praying was a type of approaching people and violated the bubble zone ordinance”.

Police insist Holland “stood within an inch of the victim, prayed out loud at a high volume for more than ten minutes” and was arrested for blocking the entrance and not, as Holland says, praying quietly.

So what does this mean for protesters? A new trend or a fleeting attempt to protect all citizens, even when they vehemently disagree? A. Harrison Barnes says there are no easy answers, but that the police have a duty to arrest anyone who violates any laws or ordinances. The law is quite definitive in these situations, after all.  With many law school graduates entering sectors that allow the to work with constitutional rights, this one’s definitely going to get a lot of attention.

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