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Court will not stop protests outside Michigan synagogue

Pro-Palestinian protests outside Jewish Michigan synagogue protected by First Amendment to the Constitution

DETROIT – Provocative pro-Palestinian protests outside a Jewish synagogue in Michigan are protected by the Constitution’s First Amendment, a federal appeals court said on Wednesday.

The court refused to stop the protests or impose restrictions on Ann Arbor. Protests have been held weekly since 2003, with people holding up signs reading “Jewish Power Corrupt,” “Stop Funding Israel” and “End the Palestinian Holocaust.”

Members of the Beth Israel congregation, including Holocaust survivors, said the protests interfered with their Saturday worship service and caused emotional distress.

“But worshipers did not allege that protesters prevented them from using their synagogue or that the protests were even audible from inside the building,” Judge Jeffrey Sutton said.

He said a proposed remedy – a 1,000-foot (305-meter) buffer zone and limits on signs – would likely violate the First Amendment.

“The main obstacle is the strong protections that the First Amendment provides for non-violent protests on issues of public interest,” Sutton said in summing up the case.

He was joined by Judge David McKeague. Judge Eric Clay agreed with the result, but for different reasons.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a brief on behalf of activists, saying protests are entitled to protection even if “offensive, upsetting and distasteful.”

“If officials and the courts have the discretion to suppress speech that they don’t like, then none of us really enjoy free speech,” said Dan Korobkin of the ACLU.

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