The Hendersons’ appeal involved a civil-rights suit against the City of Huntsville and the Chief of Police alleging that the Chief and the city violated their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion through the City’s permit ordinance and the requirement of a noise provision in their special event permit.
The Hendersons believe that abortion is the murder of an unborn child and abortion is contrary to their sincerely held religious beliefs. They act upon those beliefs by standing on the public sidewalks near two Huntsville, Alabama, abortion clinics to express their views and offer counsel to clinic employees, visitors, and patients who pass by. Under the Huntsville municipal code, their activities constitute a minor event and do not require a permit. But their protests bring out counter protesters from abortion-rights advocates and the presence of the abortion rights advocates makes it more difficult for the Hendersons to make their speech heard for two reasons. First, the Huntsville municipal code requires simultaneous sidewalk events to be held at least 10 feet apart. The Hendersons allege that the abortion-rights advocates take advantage of that policy by obtaining permits for events in front of the clinic and forcing the Hendersons to the other side of the street. Second, the abortion rights advocates drown out the Hendersons by shouting and ringing cowbells.