Astounding, New 'Word Of God' Legal Defense Banishes LMPD From EMW Clinic

Aug 4, 2021 at 2:05 pm
Dan Canon.
Dan Canon.

It is often the case that statutes and published judicial opinions, the “black letter” of the law, will not provide an answer to a particular problem. And so we lawyers must wade through more arcane sources: treatises, restatements, unpublished case law, hornbooks, law review articles, lost episodes of “Matlock” and so on. 

None of these sources identify the doctrine I am about to describe in this column; ergo, it is safe to say I discovered it. To be extra sure, I asked each of the thousands of listserves I belong to if they had ever heard of it. Nada. I also hounded my poor clerk, who, being the diligent sort, has by now skimmed every word written about the common law since the 13th century. Zilch. “Look harder,” I admonished her, “because surely there must be some record of this defense somewhere.’’ 

After all, we are talking big legal news here. This tactic is so effective that it will not only render the user immune from criminal prosecution, but it forces police who are about to arrest you to immediately scatter and leave you alone forever. It is as cop garlic to cop vampires, or cop lights to cop roaches or cop chores to cop children. Since this is the first time anyone has ever written about it, I hereby claim it as my own, a Hawking Hole of the law, to stand forever as my contribution to American jurisprudence. I briefly toyed with calling it a “Canon Hole,” but decided against it. Instead, let’s call it the “Word of God” defense. 

Some background: Every morning, the EMW Women’s Surgical Center clinic in Louisville is surrounded by folks for whom abortion pervades their every waking thought, people who hear voices compelling them to scream at patients and their companions, to call them murderers, to tell them they are going to hell and sometimes to physically block them from entering the building. This behavior, ostensibly driven by a devotion to a loving, omni-benevolent superbeing, is what prompted Metro Council to establish a “buffer zone” which, while not designed to make EMW maniac-proof (because nothing can do that), is supposed to make it maniac-resistant. We’ll see. 

Last month, Louisville Metro Police were called upon to quiet down one of the rising stars of the anti-choice scene who was screaming the Gospel, Westboro Baptist-style, over a loudspeaker in front of the clinic window. What followed resulted in one of the most remarkable video clips I have ever seen. Police apparently confront the screamer about the city’s noise ordinance. The screamer responds, over his makeshift PA system, “You cannot enforce that here… Do not interrupt me while I am preaching the word of God.”

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Of all the times I’ve seen someone tell police to fuck off, I’ve never seen them actually fuck off. But once this “Word of God” defense is invoked, the officers just… walk away. The preacher, having rendered himself invulnerable to law enforcement, continues to taunt police as they retreat: “Over the noise ordinance, Jesus Christ is king. He reigns. He reigns over these police officers.” He blathers on about how cops aren’t solving the “murders” at the clinic and chastises them for having the “gall to interrupt the preaching of God’s word.”

There are two possible takeaways from this incident. One: Last year’s protests and the changing of the guard at LMPD have resulted in police shifting their PR strategy from one based on relentless beatdowns, pepper spray and tasing to one based on total non-intervention. But that can’t be so; just last spring an officer was filmed arresting and punching a Black protester for being in a crosswalk at Injustice Square. 

The other takeaway, and the only plausible explanation I can come up with, is that police, as a matter of law, may not interrupt someone when they are “preaching the word of God.” Imagine the embarrassment of the bar at this discovery! All this time we’ve been telling people not to talk to cops, when all they had to do was say “Can’t you see I’m preachin’ here?” and that would be it. 

Of course, more research is necessary before I can recommend this course of action to any lay person or even lay clergy. There may be some nuance to the “Word of God” defense that I’ve missed; it might only work for certain faith traditions, a PA system may be required, some cops might not have heard about it, other caveats could apply. For now, most readers of this publication may assume that telling a cop “Don’t interrupt me while I’m preaching” will not stop the city’s finest from effectuating an arrest, a mini-electrocution or a facial deconstruction. Until further findings can be published, the more prudent course of action, as always, is: Shut the fuck up.