Home » News » Federal appeals court upholds N.J. city’s buffer-zone ordinance 

By David L. Hudson Jr., published on February 13, 2024

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An Englewood, N.J., ordinance creating a fixed 8-foot buffer zone outside health-care and gender-transition facilities does not violate the First Amendment, a federal appeals court has ruled.  The appeals court decided that the ordinance was narrowly drawn and not too broad. 


In March 2014, the city adopted the ordinance as a way to deal with aggressive protests from an evangelical group called the Bread of Life. Jeryl Turco, a sidewalk counselor not associated with the Bread of Life ministry, sued the city. Turco contended that the ordinance limited her free-speech rights.


After a federal district court upheld the ordinance, Turco appealed to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which affirmed the lower court in its Jan. 31, 2024, decision in Turco v. City of Englewood.  


The appeals court held that the ordinance served the city’s substantial interests in protecting the health and safety of its citizens and protecting rights to seek medical services, including abortion and gender-transitional services. 


The 3rd Circuit relied on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Hill v. Colorado (2000), which upheld a floating 8-foot buffer-zone law against a First Amendment challenge related to abortion protests. The appeals court also noted that the city had tried less speech-restrictive alternatives before passing the ordinance. The city had considered an increase in police patrols and a greater police presence near the facilities. These efforts were unsuccessful. 


“Affording the City the required deference, we are convinced based on the record that the City adequately considered less burdensome alternatives,” the appeals court wrote. “Accordingly, we find that the Ordinance is narrowly tailored and satisfies intermediate scrutiny.” 


David L. Hudson Jr. teaches First Amendment law and constitutional law classes at Belmont University College of Law. He is the author, co-author, or co-editor of more than 50 books, including The Constitution Explained: A Guide for Every American (Visible Ink Press, 2022) and The First Amendment: Freedom of Speech (Thomson Reuters, 2012).  


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