The Christian Action League of Minnesota makes a mission to speak out against the exploitation of girls and women that takes place in, and results from, sexually exploitive industries. The League’s President, Ann Redding, made the leftwing publication City Pages a particular target. That’s because the publication regularly features ads for sexually exploitative industries.
As part of her campaign, Redding sent postcards to City Page’s other advertisers letting them know that their ads were being featured next to ads for “strip clubs, porn stores, and phone sex ads.”
One City Page’s advertiser is attorney Leigh Frost. Redding sent postcards to Ms. Frost, and asked her whether, “as a woman,” she was “o.k. with” the raunchiness of City Page’s other advertisers.
But Leigh Frost didn’t like getting the postcards in the mail. She went to Hennepin County district court and got a restraining order against Anne Redding and the Christian League—on the grounds that the postcards constituted “harassment.” Redding wasn’t in court when the order was granted, and any violation of that order would have resulted in Redding going to jail.
Redding and the Christian League hired civil rights attorney Erick Kardaal, of the law firm Mohrman, Kaardal & Erickson, P.A. The restraining order was lifted in a settlement, but the Christian League had to discontinue its campaign against City Pages altogether—because anyone sent a postcard could now easily get a restraining order, which could result in serious consequences for Redding and the Christian League.
That was Summer of 2019. The City Pages crowed about the Christian group’s campaign being shut down.
The League fights back
Kardaal and Redding settled to remove the restraining order, but they weren’t happy with the silencing of Redding’s constitutionally-protected speech. Because of this, they’ve filed a suit to change Minnesota’s system of restraining orders which ends up limiting political speech—the suit names the Hennepin County Attorneys office as a defendant, and seeks to change Minnesota law.
Alpha News spoke to attorney Erick Kardaal, who explained the reasons for the new suit.
The problem, he says, is Minnesota statute 609.748 which governs the civil (non-criminal) granting of restraining orders. In order to be granted a restraining order on the basis of harassment, the statute says that harassment constitutes:
“repeated incidents of intrusive or unwanted acts, words, or gestures that have a substantial adverse effect or are intended to have a substantial adverse effect on the safety, security, or privacy of another, regardless of the relationship between the actor and the intended target (emphasis added).”
The problem, says Kardaal, is the last part—where the relationship between the two parties doesn’t matter. In practice, this broad allowance of restraining orders in Minnesota has a record of limiting political speech (note that the criminal statute, 609.749, has an exception for political speech).
The broad application of the civil statute on restraining orders could be used to suppress political speech on any matter—think of the boycotts of Target, Chic Filet, or a divestiture movement such as the one that occurred against South Africa over Apartheid. In the example of Anne Redding and the Christian League, this was pure political speech, says Kardaal, there was no contact, just a mailing campaign.
‘They give out restraining orders in Minnesota like candy’
“When the statute says ‘regardless of the relationship between the actor and intended target’ that means that the court can’t take into account the fact that it’s political speech,” says Kardaal. The result is that “they give out restraining orders in Minnesota like candy to children,” he says.
Once a restraining order is entered against you, any violation is a crime and the party can’t raise First Amendment arguments in the proceeding.
One Minnesota man spent a year in jail because he complained on social media about the restraining order that was granted to his ex-girlfriend—an attorney, who likely knew how easily these orders could be attained. The complaint posted online (not sent to her) was a violation of the order, so he went to jail. This man and others never were able to dispute the initial order, because these are granted without the “defending” party present (ex-parte). Kardaal says the ex-parte rulings are necessarily because of the sheer volume.
One immediately wonders if the ease of obtaining these orders rewards both the overly litigious, and those who have a story that is attractive to the biases of the judicial system. There’s also a legitimate concern that the widespread granting of these orders hurts those who actually need serious restraining orders, by overwhelming law enforcement and judicial resources.
Kardaal’s ultimate goal is to allow his client, Anne Redding, to pursue her political speech. “Other judicial circuits have said that if there’s an unwanted email or mail you can’t get a restraining order without more—because you can just throw the mail away and having a different standard amounts to a restriction on political speech,” says Erick Kardaal.
“Minnesota shouldn’t be disregarding the relationship between the two parties,” he says.