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An anti-abortion protester arrested in 2007 had a First Amendment right to demonstrate on a sidewalk near the entrance the building that houses the Liberty Bell, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.

The decision overturns lower-court rulings that upheld the arrest of Christian evangelical leader Michael Marcavage. Marcavage, who lives in suburban Lansdowne, had been sentenced to a year's probation for refusing a National Park Service order to move to a nearby designated demonstration area.

The appeals court tossed the two charges on free-speech and procedural grounds. The three-judge panel said Marcavage caused no more of a disturbance than other people near the Liberty Bell entrance, including a cancer-survivors group and the drivers of horse-drawn carriages hawking their services.

Marcavage founded a group, Repent America, that opposes abortion, homosexuality and the teaching of evolution.

He has been arrested repeatedly during protests up and down the East Coast. He successfully challenged a 2004 arrest for picketing at a Philadelphia street festival for gays and lesbians, but a Massachusetts court last year upheld a disorderly conduct conviction based on his refusal to stop using a megaphone at Salem's famed Halloween celebration.




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