At least a dozen police officers arrived in more than seven marked vehicles and then arrested, jailed, shackled, and/or strip searched 18 pro-life advocates, including the three women, after they held signs and shared their message along a public street.
"The state shouldn't persecute Christians for expressing their beliefs on important social issues, nor deny them their constitutional rights," said ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot.
"This incident paints an ugly picture of the state of religious freedom and free speech in America today."
"The truth of the matter is that our clients were heckled, arrested, imprisoned, shackled, and strip searched twice for exercising their First Amendment rights," said ADF-allied attorney Daniel Cox, who is serving as local counsel.
"No excuse exists for how our young clients were treated."
At least 12 police officers handcuffed 18 peaceful participants in Defend Life's "Face the Truth" Pro-life Tour on August 1 of this year and denied them a reason for their arrests. They had relocated to Bel Air after being told by officers to move from another location for not having a permit to engage in free speech activities. Three young female participants - including teenagers - were subjected to two rounds of strip searches.
The first search took place in the police station parking lot in front of other males. A female officer pulled out the young ladies' shirt collars to inspect their breasts before reaching down their pants to feel around their waistlines. The Harford County Detention Center administered the second strip search after the women were transferred there. A female officer took the women one by one into a bathroom and ordered them to lift up their shirts and brassieres.
Officials cast the pro-life participants in leg irons, denied them permission to call parents until after midnight, and did not release any of them until the following day. None were informed that attorneys Steve Peroutka and Scott Whiteman had been prohibited from having any contact with them after arriving at the station earlier that night to assist them.
On August 12, the state decided not to pursue the charges against them, which included loitering, disorderly conduct, and failure to obey a lawful order. They were never charged for a permit offence.
The complaint was filed with the US District Court for the District of Maryland, Northern Division. The case is styled Swagler v. Harford County.
The Thomas More Society of Chicago and the American Catholic Lawyers Association represent some of the other pro-life participants.