The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled late last week that a court order prohibiting a pro-life advocate from approaching a Planned Parenthood employee violated his free speech rights under the First Amendment and must be overturned.

Brian Aish, a pro-life advocate who regularly and peacefully protested at a Planned Parenthood clinic in the city of Blair, began interacting with nurse Nancy Kindschy in 2019 and was eventually accused of harassment.

Holding signs that quoted the Bible and expressed his Christian faith, Aish told Kindschy in October of that same year that she “had time to repent.” 

Aish told the Planned Parenthood employee that it wouldn’t “be long before bad things will happen to you and your family” and that she could “be killed by a drunk driver tonight.”

In February 2020, Aish told Kindschy and her co-workers: “I pray you guys make it home safely for another day or two until you turn to Christ and repent. You still have time.”

In court, Kindschy argued that Aish’s messages were “threatening,” thus leading to the Trempealeau County judge issuing a four-year injunction banning Aish from being anywhere near her. While a state appeals court upheld this ruling in 2022 following Aish’s appeal, the state’s Supreme Court ordered on Thursday to dismiss it completely. 

The Supreme Court unanimously agreed with Aish’s assertions that his dialogue with Kindschy — which occurred on a public sidewalk — was free speech protected under the First Amendment.

Furthermore, the unanimous ruling cited the 2023 U.S. Supreme Court case Counterman v. Colorado, which questioned the nature of a “true threat” unprotected by the First Amendment following a Colorado man’s conviction for stalking.

The case held that the First Amendment requires the government to prove at a minimum that the defendant “consciously disregarded a substantial risk that his communications would be viewed as threatening violence.”

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Justice Rebecca Bradley concurred in Thursday’s judgment, stating in a separate opinion that “Aish’s statements could not be of true threats of violence because he disclaimed any desire for violence to befall Kindschy.”

“Because a reasonable fact finder could not construe Aish’s statements as true threats, the First Amendment protects them,” the opinion continued. “An unconstitutional injunction impermissibly infringed Aish’s fundamental First Amendment right to speak freely on ‘a profound moral issue on which Americans hold sharply conflicting views.’”

The clinic where Kindschy worked has since closed, but the Thomas More Society, a Catholic public interest law firm based in Chicago, applauded the recent ruling in favor of protecting the speech of pro-life advocates. 

“We are very pleased that the Wisconsin Supreme Court vindicated Brian Aish’s free speech rights and restored his ability to continue sharing his pro-life message,” stated Joan Mannix, executive vice president and managing counsel of the Thomas More Society.

The Thomas More Society originally appealed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court following the initial injunction. This firm often represents pro-life groups and advocates, including those who have recently been convicted for violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act under the Biden administration.

“[The Wisconsin Supreme Court decision] reaffirms that the First Amendment embodies a paramount American value of protecting free speech even if the viewpoint expressed may be unpopular or controversial,” Mannix said. “[This is] a value that transcends partisan divides.”