- Associated Press - Friday, April 25, 2014

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - The town of Jackson and state of Wyoming have paid to end a federal lawsuit over the arrest of a Kansas anti-abortion protester on the town square in 2011, a lawyer said Friday.

Attorney Jack Edwards, who represents Mark Holick, a pastor with Spirit One Christian Ministries in Wichita, Kan., said the town, state and Wyoming Local Government Liability Pool, an insurance entity that covers local governments, have paid an unspecified six-figure settlement to end Holick’s civil rights case.

“It’s a good example of showing that the Constitution is still alive, and that people to this day still run into instances where their speech is not welcomed by the public at large, and it’s for that very reason that we have the First Amendment,” Edwards said.

Holick’s federal lawsuit states that Jackson police Lt. Robert Gilliam arrested him as he was preaching on the town square. The suit named Gilliam and Jackson Police Chief Todd Smith as defendants.

The Wyoming Attorney General’s Office got involved in the case because it defends police officers accused of civil rights violations.

Wyoming Attorney General Peter Michael said Friday the amount paid by the state to settle the claims against Gilliam and Smith was $60,000. He said the settlement bars any further claims against them by the plaintiffs arising from the 2011 protest.

“In the release, the defendants maintained their denial of any liability,” Michael said in a written statement to The Associated Press.

Mark Pring, executive director of the Local Government Liability Pool, said his organization’s share of the settlement was $155,000.

Attempts to reach town officials for comment were not immediately successful and it was not immediately clear how much the town paid for its portion of the settlement.

Holick, 53, said Friday he’s an independent evangelical who has held anti-abortion protests around the country. The level of animosity he felt in Jackson was the highest he’s ever encountered, he said.

Holick said the settlement in his case should send a message to government officials in Wyoming that the First Amendment applies to everyone, “even Christian pro-lifers.”

Holick and other protesters with Operation Save America targeted Jackson in 2011 because a doctor there had acknowledged performing abortions.

Dr. Brent Blue, a family practitioner in Jackson, has made no secret of his willingness to offer abortion services to his patients as part of his general practice.

Anti-abortion activists have said Blue is the only doctor in Wyoming who openly performs abortions. They’re anxious to shut him down.

Holick’s arrest came shortly after Jackson officials secured a state court order barring anti-abortion protesters from appearing on the town square. The 2011 anti-abortion protest happened the same weekend as an auction of elk antlers that had been collected by Boy Scouts.

Protesters stationed themselves around the town, displaying pictures including some showing aborted fetuses. Holick states in his lawsuit that he was arrested as he was preaching on the town square but not showing any pictures.

Edwards earlier pressed the protesters’ case before the Wyoming Supreme Court, which ruled in 2012 that the lower court order banning anti-abortion protesters from the town square violated the rights of protesters.

The protesters weren’t alerted in advance that the town had requested the court order banning them from the town square.

“Assuming the town had established a compelling interest in the protection of its youth and in maintaining the peace, we would nonetheless find the temporary restraining order unconstitutional,” Justice Michael Golden wrote in the majority court opinion in 2012.

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