MARCH 2020 Statesville, NC Public Preacher Accused of Violating Vague Noise Ordinance
A preacher using a megaphone was told by Police that was too loud under the City’s Noise Ordinance. The preacher agreed to turn dowm the volume, and the Officer was satisfied with the reduced level of noise. After another citizen complaint about the preaching, the Police returned and told the preacher that he was in violation of the Noise Ordinance, which prohibited “loud, disturbing and unnecessary” noise. The preacher responded that the Ordinance is vague, and the Officer replied that since the Ordinance is somewhat vague, it is “basically open to interpretation of what the Officer considers loud, disturbing and unnecessary.” The Officer also (erroneously) stated that “Other peoples’ right not to hear you is just as important as your right to say what you have to say.”
We discussed the incident with the City Attorney, and expressed our concerns that the Ordinance appears to be unconstitutionally vague and overbroad; the Officer appears to be applying a subject standard; and the Supreme Court has held that in a Traditional Public Forum people do not have a right to be sheilded from messages that they do not want to hear.
The preaching has continued without any further interference by the Police.
DECEMBER 2019 Fernandina Beach, FL Christian Evangelism Draws Objection at Public Christmas Event
Organizers of a public Christmas celebration objected to the preaching of the Gospel “without a permit” in the public park where event took place. We provided advice to the preacher for future celebrations including the following:
• The venue continues to be a Traditional Public Forum during the event
• No permit is required to evangelize there
• The preaching must not disrupt the event or prevent the event organizers from conveying their message
• The preacher must not appear to be representing the orgaizers of the event (it must be apparent to reasonable observers that the preacher is presenting his own message and not the message of the event organizers)
SEPTEMBER 2019 Concord, NC Street Preacher With Permit told not to use amplification
For the third consecutive year a church group obtained a Noise Permit under the Concord Noise Ordinance to allow their public preaching on two Saturdays per month. After the Police received a complaint about the preaching, they told the street preacher that he could not use amplification even though they had obtained a permit. We contacted the City Attorney, and we were assured that this was just a misunderstanding and the use of amplification would be allowed so long as the other provisions of the Noise Ordinance are complied with. We obtained written confirmation from the City Attorney, and the group will continue their evangelistic outreach.
AUGUST 2019 Knoxville, TN Street Preached Cited under Unconstitutional Noise Ordinance
We were contacted to review the City of Knoxville noise ordinance after a citation was issued to a man who was preaching in public. While a City has the authority to impose clear, reasonable, content-neutral restrictions upon noise, Chapter 18 of the Knoxville Code of Ordinances appears to violate several principles of First Amendment Law. The Ordinance purports to restrict “any unreasonably loud, unusual, disturbing, or unnecessary noise” which: (1) “disturbs the peace and quiet of any neighborhood;” or (2) “causes discomfort or annoyance to any reasonable person of normal sensitivity residing in the area;” or (3) “otherwise injures or endangers the comfort, repose, health, peace, safety, or welfare of others or injures or endangers personal or real property.” This Ordinance may be determined to be content-based, and it will almost certainly be determined to be unconstitutionally vague and overbroad.
We have suggested that the Ordinance should be challenged by the preacher and we have offered to assist him and his attorney in preparing a defense.
AUGUST 2019 Mt. Airy, NC Trouble in Mayberry: Preachers Arrested for Preaching Without Permit
Two preachers were ordered by Police to stop preaching in public because they didn’t have a permit. The preachers responded that they believed that they had a right under the First Amendment to preach without a permit. The Officer left, but then returned and arrested them for violating an Ordinance [Section 15-21 “Parades, etc.”] that prohibits Parades, Marches, Demonstrations and similar functions without obtaining a permit. The Ordinance does not define “parade,” “march,” “demonstration,” or “similar function;” and it does not provide guidelines for the granting or denial of a permit. We determined that if challenged the Ordinance is likely to be held unconstitutional. We have offered to provide assistance in the defense of the charge.
APRIL 2019 Daytona Beach, FL Police Encounter at Farmer’s Market
A street evangelist was told by the Police that he could not remain on a public sidewalk next to a park which was being used as a farmer’s market. The farmer’s market had leased the park, and had hired a musician to entertain its customers. We contacted the Police Officer to explain that the sidewalk is still a Traditional Public Forum where the evangelist has a right to be even though the area is leased to the farmer’s market. The Officer agreed, but stated that the evangelist would not be permitted to preach loud enough to disrupt the entertainment. The evangelist agreed to adjust his activities so that he would not be interfering with music program.
SEPTEMBER 2018 We’re now on YouTube!
We have posted recordings of our Public Evangelism Seminar from June 2018 at THE BIBLE BAPTIST CHURCH in DeLand, Florida: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCY4P9asNTYaWTR1hMDDFfuA
SEPTEMBER 15, 2018 Bradford, PA Successful Program and Outreach
Local church members as well as several visitors from out of town attended our Public Evangelism program at Bradford Baptist Church. After the program we participated in public evangelism in the downtown area, and our witnessing appeared to be well received by the community. It was a joy to serve the Lord in fellowship with our brothers and sisters!
SEPTEMBER 15, 2018 Bradford, PA Evangelism Seminar at Bradford Baptist Church
We will present a Public Evangelism seminar at Bradford Baptist Church on
Saturday, September 15, 2018. Click the link below for details:
JULY 2018 Cookeville, TN Church Group Initiates Public Evangelism
A church group began a new public outreach at the county fireworks display on July 4th, and they were told by the event organizers that they had to stop. We contacted local officials to help determine the parameters of permissible evangelism outreach in that venue, and provided guidance to the church group regarding opportunities for evangelism at future events.
JUNE 2018 DeLand, FL Evangelism Seminar at THE BIBLE BAPTIST CHURCH
We had a great time presenting our First Amendment seminar at BBC in DeLand,
and many participated in the public outreach in Daytona Beach after the program.
Florida enacted a new law to protect free speech on public college campuses. Click the link below to read about the Campus Free Expression Act:
APRIL – MAY 2018 Clermont, FL Police Interfere with Evangelism at Farmer’s Market
The sponsors of a weekly Farmer’s Market held on Sundays in downtown Clermont complained to Police that a Christian was asserting his right to distribute Gospel tracts and preach on public property within the barricaded area surrounding the market. The Police told the Christian witness that he could not preach or distribute literature at the Farmer’s Market.
We contacted the City officials, and received assurance from the City Attorney that they understand that members of the public have a First Amendment right to engage in free speech activities at public events on public property, and that the Police will not interfere with the preacher at the Farmer’s Market.
On May 13 our brother returned to the Farmer’s Market and was able to minister there without any interference by Clermont City officials.
APRIL 2018 DeLand, FL Public Evangelism Seminar scheduled for June
We will have a free Public Evangelism Seminar & Training at THE BIBLE BAPTIST CHURCH OF DELAND on Saturday June 2, 2018. The program will begin at 1:30 p.m. with instruction on Spiritual and Legal Issues and Questions & Answers. Following the program we will have refreshments, and then travel to the Daytona Beach boardwalk where you can observe and/or participate in Public Evangelism with further instruction and explanation.
If you would like to attend please R.S.V.P. to Assistant Pastor David Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org by May 27, 2018.
MARCH 2018 Public Evangelism Seminar being planned for this fall
We are finalizing arrangements for a Public Evangelism Seminar in Pennsylvania in September 2018. We are excited to meet new brothers & sisters and to join them in ministry this fall!
NOVEMBER 2017 DeLand, FL Evangelism Seminar
We had the pleasure of teaching a class on Legal Issues in Witnessing at The DeLand School of the Bible. Our discussion included many topics from our Public Evangelism seminar, and we had a very interesting Question & Answer session at the end.
OCTOBER 2017 Brunswick, GA Tract distribution prohibited
A County Police Officer approached a Pastor and members of his church who were was displaying signs, preaching, and distributing Gospel tracts in a public park, and told them that they could not pass out their literature because that was “soliciting” without a permit. The Pastor of the group tried to reason with the Officer, and let him know that they have been evangelizing in this park every week for about 3 years without incident, but the Officer threatened to arrest them if they continued to distribute literature without a permit. We contacted the Interim Police Chief, John Powell, who was very responsive and professional. Chief Powell assured us that he understands our rights and that it is not the County’s policy to interfere with the exercise of free speech (including handing out literature) in a public park. We assume the confrontation by the Officer was an isolated incident, and Chief Powell will make sure his Officers are properly trained regarding this issue.
SEPTEMBER 2017 Ellijay, GA Update
Our friends in Ellijay have been getting the word out with Gospel signs along the highway without any interference by the authorities.
AUGUST-SEPTEMBER 2017 Daytona Beach, FL update
We had some additional hassles with the security people at the Bandshell in Daytona Beach in August, but after a few emails to the people in charge it looks like we once again have liberty to distribute tracts before the concerts without any interference.
JULY 2017 New Case Sheet available on our website
We have posted a one-page information sheet (in .pdf format) with Court Case citations outlining the right to evangelize at a public event. Click on the link on our home page to read or download this helpful information.
For more detailed treatment of this topic, please see our publication, Public Evangelism Under the First Amendment (3rd edition), available free from this ministry.
JUNE 2017 Washington, D.C. Supreme Court Rules on First Amendment Case
The Supreme Court unanimously (8-0) struck down a federal law which prohibited the registration of trademarks which “disparage” or bring into contempt or “disrepute” any persons, living or dead. The case of Matal v. Tam involved an Asian musical group that applied for a trademark as “The Slants.” The government had refused to issue the trademark because the term is offensive and violated the disparagement clause of the trademark law. The Court stated that the disparagement clause “offends a bedrock First Amendment principle: Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend.” Justice Alito wrote, “Speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful; but the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express ‘the thought that we hate.’”
JUNE 2017 Daytona Beach, FL Conflicts at the Bandshell
A group from THE BIBLE Baptist Church of DeLand hands out gospel tracts at the Daytona Beach Bandshell (a public park) prior to the free Saturday night concerts during the summer. This year some very aggressive security officers tried to make us leave. When we explained that we have a Constitutional right to hand out our literature, and that we will leave before the show starts, they called the Police. The Police responded and confirmed that we have the right to distribute our literature before the show. Nevertheless, the security officers again tried to make us leave on the following weeks. After a few phone calls and a stern letter to the security company, the security officers appear to have been properly educated and this ministry has continued without any further problem.
APRIL 2017 Fernandina Beach, FL Police Dept. Requests First Amendment Booklets
We sent several copies of our booklet, Public Evangelism Under the First Amendment (3rd edition), to the Fernandina Beach Police Department at the request of the Chief of Police. We have consistently heard good reports that the Officers of that Department have been well trained to understand the Constitutional issues regarding evangelism at public parks and festivals.
FEBRUARY 2017 Ellijay & East Ellijay, GA Gospel Sign Ministry
A Christian who wanted to begin holding Gospel signs along the highways in Ellijay and East Ellijay, Georgia inquired of City Officials to see what regulations apply. In both cities he was erroneously told that displaying signs along the highways was prohibited. We contacted City Officials in both cities, and received confirmation that there is NO PROHIBITION against holding signs on the sidewalks next to the city streets or highways.
DECEMBER 2016 Diamondhead, MS Update
After we had contacted the City Attorney’s office, members of the church continued to distribute their literature door-to-door without any interference by the Police.
DECEMBER 2016 ORLANDO, FL Evangelism at The Citrus Bowl
We will be joining a team from THE BIBLE Baptist Church of DeLand as they preach, hold signs, and pass out tracts outside the Citrus Bowl on Saturday, December 31st. We have already contacted the attorney for the Police Department to try to prevent any misunderstandings, and have obtained the name and phone number of the Commanding Officer for that event in case there is any confusion among his Officers regarding our First Amendment rights. Update: We were briefly challenged by security personnel at one of the locations outside the stadium , but the issue was quickly resolved as we reasoned with a Supervisor from the Security Company.
DECEMBER 2016 GROTON, NY Free Speech Booklet helps Evangelist
Friends of this ministry in Groton, NY have forwarded copies Public Evangelism Under the First Amendment to others who are involved in public ministry. They received a report from one such evangelist who has “used the booklet several times when confronted by the police.” What a blessing it is to hear that our little booklet is making a difference!
NOVEMBER 2016 MANCHESTER, CT Police censor religious speech
Police in Manchester, Connecticut have told a man handing out “Get Out of Hell” tracts that his literature is “hate literature” and may not be distributed in public. On other occasions they have ordered him to move a short distance, and have tried to impose other restrictions upon the content of his messages. We have discussed with this brother how to respond to police interference, and have offered to contact city officials on his behalf. We have also sent a copy of Public Evangelism Under the First Amendment to him.
OCTOBER 2016 DIAMONDHEAD, MS. Door-to-door distribution of Christian literature prohibited
A church group leaving gospel literature hanging on doorknobs in residential neighborhoods of Diamondhead, Mississippi were told by Police that their actions are prohibited by local ordinances. We are in discussions with City officials to attempt to resolve the matter without taking formal legal action, if possible. **see Update December 2016
AUGUST 2016 LARGER PRINT BOOKLETS AVAILABLE
Due to printer’s error, we have a shipment of PUBLIC EVANGELISM UNDER THE FIRST AMENDMENT (Third Edition) in a larger size (8 1/2 x 11) with wide margins and larger print. While not as handy for carrying with you, these larger booklets are easier to read and have plenty of room for notes. Contact us for your free copy!
JUNE 2016 NEW BOOKLETS (3rd Edition) NOW AVAILABLE!
We have received our first shipment of PUBLIC EVANGELISM UNDER THE FIRST AMENDMENT (Third Edition) from our printer. This newest edition includes recent Court Decisions, a new section on “Heckler’s Veto,” and a list of Bible
verses regarding the Christian’s responsibility to share the Gospel. These booklets are available for immediate distribution. As always, these booklets are distributed free of charge. However, if you choose to contribute to our costs of printing and distribution, your donation is tax deductible. Contact us to request your free copy!
March 2016 FOLEY, AL Update on Public Evangelism Case
Our friends from Seminole Baptist Church have resumed their pStreet Ministry-Foley Alaublic evangelism activities on the sidewalks in Foley, Alabama following the Federal Court’s ruling that the City could not enforce its public demonstration ordinance against the group.
The City of Foley has revoked the challenged ordinance and has passed a new ordinance which is less restrictive. We will continue to monitor the situation.
January 2016 Click the link to read our new article regarding Washington’s most recent censorship attempt to curtail Free Speech for the sake of political correctness: Why The Government Cannot Outlaw Hate Speech
January 2016 ORLANDO, FL “Free Speech Zone” outside Citrus Bowl
A church group evangelizing outside the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando on January 1st Citrus Bowlwas ordered by Orlando Police to move from a public sidewalk outside the stadium to a Citrus Bowl 2016designated “Free Speech Zone” a short distance away, which did not provide as favorable access to the crowds entering the stadium. A Police representative indicated that for the duration of the event the public sidewalk was no longer public. We were able to assure the group that the public sidewalk remains public, and suggested that they return to the sidewalk area with video-cameras and request to speak to a Police Supervisor. Orlando Police Lt. Hill responded and agreed that the group could continue their ministry on the public sidewalk. Thank you to Lt. Hill for being willing to listen and follow the law!
December 2015 Attorney General Loretta Lynch vows to prosecute those whose anti-Muslim rhetoric “tends toward violence” constitution
Click the link to read why such Government action would be Unconstitutional: Can the Government prohibit hate speech that tends toward violence?
November 2015 MOBILE, AL Court Rules Against City of Foley
The Federal District Court entered a Preliminary Injunction against the City of Foley and its officers, prohibiting them from enforcing the City Ordinance requiring permits for religious expression on the City’s sidewalks. The Court held that the Ordinance is flawed because it allows the police chief too much discretion in determining whether to grant or deny a permit, and because it authorizes the police chief to deny the permit if he determines that the permitted conduct is likely to “provoke disorderly conduct.” The court stated that an ordinance which allows “denial of a permit due to its potential for causing third parties to become unruly” violates the First Amendment.
The case is still pending. This preliminary ruling means that the Court found that there is a “substantial likelihood” that the Plaintiff will prevail when the case goes to a final hearing; and therefore the City may not enforce its Ordinance until the case is concluded.
November 2015 ORLANDO, FL Evangelist Cited for Displaying Sign
We are assisting a young man who was issued a Citation for displaying a Scripture sign on a sidewalk in downtown Orlando. It appears that the Citation was technically flawed, and that the City Ordinance is unconstitutional as applied in this situation. His court hearing is next month.
August 2015 MOBILE, AL Suit Filed in Federal Court against City of Foley
We have been assisting in the preparation of a lawsuit against the City of Foley, Alabama for the violation of the civil rights of a preacher who was prosecuted for engaging in public evangelism on a public sidewalk in that City. The Complaint was filed in Federal Court in the Southern District of Alabama by our friends at the Center For Religious Expression. We are convinced that the City’s Ordinance restricting “Public Demonstrations” is clearly unconstitutional. (We reported on this conflict in our prior posts in February 2013, June 2013, April 2014, May 2014, and August 2014.) Please pray that the Court will correctly apply well-established Constitutional principles to declare Foley’s Ordinance invalid.
July 2015 ALTAMONTE SPRINGS, FL Encounter at City Fireworks Event
While distributing Gospel tracts at an Independence Day fireworks event in a City Park, we stopped to talk to a couple of Christians holding signs and preaching on a public sidewalk within the event area. The preachers reported that they were warned by the Police that they had the right to distribute literature and talk to people but that they could not “yell.” We spoke to the Police Officers in charge of security, and were able to have them agree that our First Amendment Right to Free Speech included the right to preach out loud and that the Police did not have the right to arbitrarily set restrictions on the volume of the preaching. (We also counseled the preachers to be sure the volume of their preaching was appropriate for their location.)
A private Security Officer for the event approached the preachers a little while later and threatened to have them removed if they continued to “yell” (i.e. preach). We tried to reason with the Security Officer and it did not appear that we were able to persuade him of his error, but he left and did not return. The Police were true to their word and allowed the preaching without interference.
June 2015 SUPREME COURT RULES ON FIRST AMENDMENT CASE
On June 18, 2015 the U.S. Supreme Court decided the case of Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Arizona, ruling that a town’s Sign Code was an unconstitutional content-based regulation of speech. A local church had posted signs giving directions to their services, and the Sign Code placed greater restrictions on those signs than on other types of signs. Here’s a link to check out my article about this case: http://www.attorneyjakejackson.com/supreme-court-rules-on-free-speech-case/
March 2015 BRUNSWICK, GA Noise Ordinance Permit Requirement
We have assisted a local church that had questions regarding compliance with the Brunswick Noise Control ordinance. The City requires a permit for the use of amplification equipment and to exceed the normal noise limits. A simple form is required for the permit, and the City does not charge any fee. The church had obtained a permit which allows preaching with amplification on an ongoing basis through the end of the year.
We reviewed the Noise Control Ordinance and have discussed its application and enforcement procedures with the Pastor. The Pastor reports that they have had no conflicts with the authorities, and they have had several occasions to present the Gospel to Police Officers who were very willing to listen.
March 2015 NEW BRITAIN, CT Police Stop Preaching On Sidewalk Due To Citizen Complaint
Two preachers from a church in a neighboring town have been preaching without amplification on a public sidewalk next to a public park in downtown New Britain each week for the past several months. On March 13th they were approached by a Police Officer who informed them that he had received a complaint about the loud preaching, and they would have to stop. The Officer claimed they were in violation of the law due to the noise and the “annoyance” they were causing. One of the preachers offered to lower their voices a little but the Officer told them they could not preach at all, and that if he had to come back to respond to a further complaint they would be arrested.
We have researched the City Ordinances and have provided practical advice for the preachers. It appears that both the Noise Ordinance and the Public Disturbance Ordinance have provisions that are unconstitutional. The Public Disturbance Ordinance states “No person shall make any disturbing noise, including but not limited to, outcrys, blowing of horns, ringing of bells, or singing, in any street or public square.” We expect that the City will not attempt to pursue enforcement of that Ordinance against the preachers.
February 2015 DAYTONA BEACH, FL Great Report Regarding Encounters with Volusia County Beach Patrol
Many months ago we received an inquiry from a brother who distributes gospel tracts on a regular basis in Daytona Beach. He had been confronted by the Volusia County Beach Patrol and was told that he could not distribute his materials there without a permit. We researched the local ordinance, and sent an email to our brother explaining that the Volusia County Beach Code requires permits for commercial solicitation, but those restrictions do not apply to distribution of religious or political materials that are not connected with commercial activity or requests for donations, and we included copies of the pertinent sections of the Code. Our brother still occasionally gets stopped by the Beach Patrol, but he keeps a copy of our email with him and each time he shows it to them they back down. He even had an Officer apologize to him after starting to write a Citation! Thank God for our liberty!
October 11, 2014 SEMINOLE, AL Public Evangelism/First Amendment Seminar
We were privileged to present a Public Evangelism Seminar at Seminole First Baptist Church on Saturday, October 11, 2014. Our program covered the Biblical foundation for public ministry; spiritual and legal issues; practical do’s and don’t’s; and opportunities for questions & answers. We had brothers and sisters from the local area and from other communities in attendance. Many good questions were asked, we enjoyed a great time of fellowship, and we had good participation in a public evangelism effort after the meeting. We were also able to distribute numerous copies of our booklet, Public Evangelism Under The First Amendment (Second Edition), as well as some great evangelism materials from Brother James Knox, to those who attended.
September 2014 ORLANDO, FL Harassment by Code Enforcement
A preacher who uses amplification for his street preaching in downtown Orlando on Saturday nights has been told by Code Enforcement Officers that he can not preach with amplification without a permit. He went to city officials to apply for a permit, and was informed that no permit is needed at that location because he is in the downtown “entertainment district.” On September 20th he was confronted by a Code Enforcement Officer who told him that his activity was illegal without a permit. The preacher explained that he tried to get a permit, and offered to show written evidence showing that no permit was required. The Officer refused to consider his documentation and issued a Citation for violating the City Code. A hearing is scheduled for October.
August 2014 DAYTONA BEACH, FL They’re at it again in Daytona Beach
We were with a small group that distributes gospel tracts every Saturday evening in a pedestrian overpass bridge which is owned by the County. Security guards from the adjacent shopping/entertainment complex asserted that this was private property and they tried to have us removed. The first Police Officers who arrived on the scene refused to listen to us or to review the written documentation that we had which established that the bridge is public property, so requested a supervisor to come to the scene. We continued to pass out tracts while we waited for the supervisor. A Police Lieutenant arrived and reviewed or documentation. He said he was not certain but it appeared that the bridge may be public property, so we would be allowed to continue our activities there that evening. He said they would look into this further to determine if this really is public property. We have continued there for several weeks and have not heard from them again.
August 2014 FOLEY, AL. They’re at it again in Foley
The Foley Police interrupted a peaceful assembly of Christians who were preaching and displaying gospel messages on the sidewalks of Foley’s downtown. The Police interpreted Foley’s new ordinance to require a permit, even though the participants numbered far fewer than the threshold of 20 stated in the ordinance. The Pastor who led the group tried to reason with the Officers that it appeared the group had the right to conduct their free speech activities without a permit. The Officers went ahead and issued a citation to the Pastor without ever ordering the group to disperse. The matter is set for a court hearing in October.
July 2014 LOWELL, MI. Evangelism allowed at County Fair
We were contacted by a young man whose church group was informed that to distribute gospel tracts at the local County Fair was prohibited “soliciting.” We determined that the County Fair was located in a county park which was a Traditional Public Forum. Since this Fair was free and open to the public with no tickets or payment for admission required, the location continued to be a Traditional Public Forum where members of the public may exercise their right to speak and distribute literature. We sent a copy of our booklet, Public Evangelism Under The First Amendment, to assist in clearing the way with the authorities. The Pastor and Assistant Pastor met with the Police Chief, who at first held to the view that distributing tracts was “soliciting” and was not allowed. The Pastors showed our materials on Specially Permitted Events to the Police Chief. The Chief then said he would discuss these issues with the City Attorney. The next day, the Police Chief told the Pastors that he had spoken with the City Attorney and the local fair authorities, and that he instructed the fair authorities that the group had a Constitutional right to pass out gospel tracts during the Fair and that the Police would not respond to complaints about the distribution of literature there!
July 19, 2014 ITHICA, N.Y. Booklet makes difference at Farmer’s Market
The organizers of a local Farmer’s Market told a group of Christian witnesses that their attempt to hand out gospel tracts violated the Market’s 20-year policy at that location. The Christian group contacted the Police and showed the Officer the relevant portions of our Public Evangelism booklet. The Officer took the booklet to his supervisor, and when he returned he said that he would inform the Farmer’s Market that the group of Christians had the right to be there with their tracts.
June 26, 2014 WASHINGTON, D.C. Supreme Court Free Speech Ruling
In the case of McCullen v. Coakley (June 26, 2014) the Supreme Court struck down a Massachusetts law making it a crime to stand within 35 feet of any abortion clinic (including public sidewalks where protesting, counseling, distribution of literature, and other speech activities were customarily practiced) The Court was split 5 to 4 regarding the proper legal analysis to be used, but all 9 Justices agreed that the law violated the First Amendment.
One important point upon which the Court reached consensus is that the government may not justify restrictions on speech in a Traditional Public Forum (such as a public sidewalk or park) based on a concern for protecting the public from unwelcome speech. Justice Roberts’ opinion for the Court states: “It is no accident that public streets and sidewalks have developed as venues for the exchange of ideas. Even today, they remain one of the few places where a speaker can be confident that he is not simply preaching to the choir. With respect to other means of communication, an individual confronted with an uncomfortable message can always turn the page, change the channel, or leave the Web site. Not so on public streets and sidewalks. There, a listener often encounters speech he might otherwise tune out. In light of the First Amendment’s purpose “to preserve an uninhibited marketplace of ideas in which truth will ultimately prevail,” this aspect of traditional public fora is a virtue, not a vice.” In other words, the Court is saying that having people exposed to messages that they may not want to encounter in a Traditional Public Forum is not a problem that the government should try to eradicate; it is a benefit to a free society.
The concurring opinion authored by Justice Scalia states: “Protecting people from speech they do not want to hear is not a function that the First Amendment allows the government to undertake in the public streets and sidewalks.” Justice Scalia further wrote that “protection against unwelcome speech cannot justify restrictions on the use of public streets and sidewalks.”
Some prior cases seemed to imply that shielding people from unwelcome messages may be a legitimate reason to impose restrictions upon speech in public streets, parks and sidewalks. It now appears clear that for the government to impose restrictions upon speech in a Traditional Public Forum, the government will have to demonstrate compelling reasons other than protecting people from messages that they do not want to hear.
How often have we heard the objection, “We understand you have a right to preach your message, but what about the rights of other people who don’t want to hear it?” The answer is, In a Traditional Public Forum people do not have a right to be shielded from the message: if they don’t want to hear it they can walk away, or ignore it, or tolerate it, or promote a contrary message; but the government cannot justify a restriction on speech just because some people do not want to be confronted with an unpopular message.
May 2014 FOLEY, AL Update/Answered Prayer
After thoroughly reviewing the new City Ordinance on public demonstrations, we sent a detailed letter to the City expressing concerns about the wording of the Ordinance and about its interpretation and enforcement by local police. We received a letter back from the City Attorney defending the Ordinance and suggesting that our Constitutional concerns were exaggerated. However, when the church group recently assembled on the sidewalks and proclaimed the Gospel, the Police observed but did not in any way interfere with the peaceful assembly. We had been concerned that this issue would not be resolved without a lawsuit. Thank you to the many people who prayed that this public ministry could continue without further hindrance. We will continue to monitor this situation.
May 2014 DAYTONA BEACH, FL Case Dismissed!
We finally persuaded the Prosecutor to drop the battery charge that was filed against the street preacher whose megaphone accidentally made contact with an aggressive heckler (see our post from April 2014).
April 2014 FOLEY, AL New ordinance attempts to hinder street ministry
The City Council has passed a new ordinance which requires a permit for public demonstrations including any assembly “which is expected to include or which actually includes at least twenty (20) people, counting all those present either to participate or witness the event.” Police have notified the pastor of a church group that holds signs and witnesses on the sidewalks that if there are 20 or more people present, including people in cars stopped at the intersection, that the assembly is illegal unless the group has a permit. The pastor has been informed that the ordinance was passed because of opposition to the church group’s one-hour per month public ministry. We are investigating and will attempt to negotiate a resolution with the City. If possible, we would like to see this resolved without a lawsuit.
April 2014 DAYTONA BEACH, FL Preacher arrested for “battery” when hand-held megaphone makes accidental contact with aggressive heckler
While preaching on public property outside a bar in Daytona Beach, a preacher was surrounded by the bar’s “bouncers” and other hecklers. The “bouncers” held “tactical flashlights” (extremely bright lights with strobes) inches from the preacher’s eyes. Although blinded by the bright lights, the preacher continued to preach. Eventually the preacher’s hand-held megaphone made inadvertent contact with one of the “bouncers,” and the preacher was arrested for “battery.” We are representing the preacher in criminal court.
March 2014 GAINESVILLE, GA. Preacher ordered not to preach on public sidewalk without permit
We are investigating a series of incidents in Gainesville, Georgia where a preacher was told by city police that he could not preach without a permit, and that he could not display his banner supported by a plastic pole. In addition to advising our brother how to handle any further confrontations, we are reaching out to city officials to try to ensure that further attempts at constitutionally protected evangelism will not be hindered.
Nov. 2013 to Feb. 2014 DELAND, FL Battle over public preaching
For the past several months downtown evangelists from The BIBLE Baptist Church have faced mounting opposition both on the street and at City Commission meetings. One local businessman who is opposed to the preaching printed some flyers criticizing the preachers, and hired some young people to distribute them and hold signs with opposing messages during the weekly evangelism outreach. Other groups saw the increased activity
downtown on Friday afternoons, and they joined the forum with many signs, most mocking the preachers and the Gospel, some promoting or opposing various causes. The immediate result was that much more interest was stirred among the church, and the number of street evangelists swelled about seven-fold. When the opposition forces found that their efforts would not make the Christians quit, they began to lobby the City Commission to enact legislation to restrict or prohibit the evangelistic activities in that location. With exaggerated and fabricated reports of street preachers being aggressive, threatening, disorderly and dangerous, they presented the issue as a public safety hazard and a nuisance which interfered with local commerce and threatened to shut down the town’s businesses. Although for four months dozens of people opposed to the preaching brought cameras to the weekly evangelism events, no one was able to produce any video evidence to support their accusations. Police investigated and reported no problems with excessive noise, impeding sidewalks, or dangerous or threatening activity of any kind.
Gospel Advocates was involved throughout the process, providing advice to the church group, contacting city officials and business leaders, and attempting to reason with members of the opposition. We participated in two City Commission meetings where these issues were discussed. Over 170 supporters of Free Speech attended the last Commission meeting. The end result was that the Commission decided to take no action to attempt to place any further restrictions upon free speech activities in downtown DeLand.
Nov. 16, 2013 ALBANY, KY Public Evangelism SeminarStreet Ministry
We had a great meeting at Albany Independent Baptist Church in Albany, Kentucky on Saturday, November 16, 2013 presenting a Public Evangelism seminar. The program covered the Biblical foundation for public ministry; spiritual and legal issues; practical do’s and don’t’s; and an opportunity for questions & answers. After the program we conducted a street meeting at a busy intersection nearby. The display of scripture signs and gospel preaching was very well received by the community. Pastor Melvin Daniel is having some new signs made and is planning to organize further street meetings on a regular basis.
Aug. 20, 2013 RADIO APPEARANCE
August 20, 2013 Program
August 20, 2013 Program
Brother Jake was invited to call in to the Alaska Talks Liberty radio program to take part in a discussion about public evangelism, police encounters, and freedom of speech under the First Amendment. The program aired on Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 7:00 p.m. EST. Several street preachers participated in the panel discussion, and the gospel of Jesus Christ was clearly presented several times. You can listen to or download a recording of the program at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/alaskatalksliberty/2013/08/20/the-police-state-the-first-amendment-free-speech (The program’s theme song repeats for about 11 1/2 minutes before the talk show begins.)
July 2013 DAYTONA BEACH, FL NASCAR Preaching Interrupted
Christian evangelists who were preaching and handing out gospel tracts before a NASCAR race in Daytona Beach in a pedestrian overpass walkway were interrupted by track security and told to leave the property. The Christian witnesses explained that they believed they were on public property and had a right to remain there. Police were called, and the racetrack security officer claimed that the pedestrian overpass was owned by the racetrack. The responding Police Officer believed that it was private property, and enforced the (purported) property owner’s right to exclude unwanted visitors. We contacted both the racetrack corporate office and the City Attorney, and it was determined that the pedestrian overpass bridge is owned by the City of Daytona Beach, and that the landings which were on the racetrack property are dedicated to the public. Upon our request for written confirmation from the City, the Police Legal Advisor issued a memorandum to all Daytona Beach Police Officers confirming that the distribution of religious literature on the pedestrian bridge and landings is allowed to the same extent as on a public sidewalk. The memorandum was also provided to the racetrack corporation’s Director of Security. The group of evangelists will be prepared with a copy of the memorandum for all future races at this location.
June 2013 FOLEY, AL Update
Since our last contact, the folks at Foley, Alabama have continued to faithfully participate in their public ministry. Occasionally the police will ride by but there have been no new confrontations or threats of any kind. Praise God for our liberty!
May 2013 FERNANDINA BEACH, FL Free Speech booklet settles conflicts
Brother Charlie Mack keeps a copy of our booklet, Public Evangelism Under The First Amendment, with him when he evangelizes in Fernandina Beach every week. Charlie uses a sign and gospel tracts while he witnesses to people at the local flea market and during street festivals. At the recent Shrimp Festival he was confronted by the organizers and was told that he “can not do that here.” Charlie used our booklet to show them that he does have the legal right to be there with his signs and tracts, and he was allowed to continue with no further interference. Charlie reports that the booklet was effective in dealing with local police when he first began his public ministry, and he enjoys great liberty in serving the Lord in his community.
February 2013 FOLEY, AL Street Ministers Threatened By Police
For several years a local church has conducted evangelistic street meetings at the main intersection of Foley, Alabama. Recently they were told by police that they could not assemble on the corner without a permit, or they would be cited and prosecuted under a city ordinance which requires a permit for any “parade, procession or public demonstration.” We have contacted the city officials and are seeking a determination that the ordinance does not apply to the informal group of Christians who are displaying signs, handing out tracts, and preaching on the sidewalk. (If the ordinance is deemed to apply to this activity, there are several provisions of the ordinance which may be challenged on First Amendment grounds.)
November 2012 DELAND, FL Another Complaint Dismissed, Policy Amended
A complaint for a noise ordinance violation by a street preacher was scheduled for a court arraignment on November 7, 2011. This was another complaint by the same merchant who opposed the public preaching last August. After discussions with the City Attorney prior to court, the charge was formally dismissed by the City of DeLand. The City Attorney agreed to a change of policy so that there would no longer automatically be complaint reports generated every time a call is made complaining about the preaching.
August 31, 2012 DELAND, FL Complaint Dismissed
On August 31, 2012 a formal “Announcement Of No Information” was issued by the DeLand City Attorney, declaring the City’s intent that no formal charge would be filed and there would be no prosecution against a local street preacher who was accused by a local merchant of violating the City’s noise ordinance. There have been additional noise complaints made by the same merchant, but no action has been taken by the City Attorney on those complaints. Preaching in downtown DeLand on Friday afternoons has been done consistently since 1987. The complaining merchant has been in business at that location for less than one year. The merchant had stated that he objects to preaching in front of his store, which he believes is harming his business, and that “it was never about the noise.”
August 2012 SALISBURY, NC Police Prohibit Sign on Sidewalk
A sidewalk evangelist held a sign depicting Jesus on the cross with a quote from John 1:29 on a public sidewalk in Salisbury, NC. A police officer promptly ordered the evangelist to remove the sign, upon threat of arrest, claiming that a local ordinance prohibits hand-held signs on the public sidewalks. The location was directly in front of a Chick-Fil-A restaurant, and the restaurant manager allowed the evangelist to display the sign from the restaurant property. We contacted the city attorney, who said that the officer made a mistake and they will institute new training on this issue with the police. There are still some issues to be worked out regarding the application of an ordinance requiring a permit for protests when two or more people hold signs on public property.
July 2012 VIRGINIA BEACH, VA Street Preachers’ Meeting
Brother Jake was invited to teach on First Amendment issues at the convention
Witnessing on the boardwalk
of the Southeast Open Air Preacher’s Association in Virginia Beach. We covered constitutional issues and spiritual considerations at the meeting on July 2, 2012. We distributed our teaching materials and Brother Jake responded to numerous questions about our liberty to evangelize in public places. In the evening we went to the boardwalk area of Virginia Beach, where we were able to preach, hand out tracts, and have some good conversations with people about the truth of the Bible and the gospel of Jesus Christ.
June 30, 2012 MINT HILL, NC Public Evangelism seminar
We had a great time of fellowship as we presented a Public Ministry seminar at Faith Baptist Church in Mint Hill, N.C. on Saturday, June 30, 2012. The program covered the Biblical basis for public evangelism, as well as legal and constitutional issues, and practical advice including preparation and precautions, and tips for dealing with opposition. Faith Baptist Church is already very active in public ministry, and we joined them for part of their weekly sidewalk evangelism. Their members and visitors from other churches had many good questions about handling situations they have experienced in their public ministries. We enjoyed a sweet time of fellowship with these brothers and sisters throughout our visit.
JUNE 2012 NEW PUBLIC EVANGELISM BOOKLETS AVAILABLE
Our Second Edition of PUBLIC EVANGELISM UNDER THE FIRST AMENDMENT is published. With updated caselaw and new sections on “Fighting Words,” Noise Ordinances, and more, we hope this will be a very valuable resource for all who are inclined to serve the Lord Jesus Christ in public ministry. As always, these booklets are available without charge. If you choose to donate to this work, a receipt will be provided for your tax-deductible donation.
June 6, 2012 DELAND, FL Update: Police Chief & City Attorney
We met with the DeLand City Attorney and the Chief of Police to discuss the situation in downtown DeLand. They assured us that they understand and support our First Amendment right to assemble on the public sidewalk and convey our message. They said that they have always found us to be approachable whenever an issue has come up about our ministry. They told us that if there are further violations of the local noise ordinance by the store owner, they will pursue prosecution against him upon proper complaint. With the loud music eliminated, we will not need megaphones and agreed not to use them. (In 27 years of preaching in this venue, we have never used amplification until June 1st.) The gospel continues to be heard in this community.
June 1, 2012 DELAND, FL Merchant harasses preachers, police intervene
Christians have been publicly proclaiming the gospel on the corner of New York Avenue
Downtown DeLand June 1, 2012
and Woodland Blvd. in DeLand , Florida on Friday afternoons since 1985. On May 25th and June 1st the owner of a new music store put giant speakers in his doorway and blasted loud music to disrupt the street meeting. On June 1st two preachers began to use megaphones to try to be heard, and the police were promptly called. At first the police asked the preachers to stop using amplification, but did not address the music which was much louder, because they had received complaints about the megaphone but not the music. We explained that if amplified music is allowed, amplified preaching must also be allowed. When the music was turned down, we stopped using megaphones. Police were called a second time after the merchant broadcast a loud high-pitched anti-crowd noise and more loud music. Eventually police persuaded the merchant to turn down his noise, and an officer was posted at the scene until we finished preaching. Praise the LORD!
May 2012 GROTON, N.Y. Local evangelism
A brother in Groton has been displaying his large scripture sign from the trunk of his car in various locations around the city, including by the local high school. Preaching, tract distribution, and one-on-one conversations are included. We have been providing some advice. So far there have been no conflicts with local authorities.
May 2012 SEASIDE HEIGHTS, N.J. Evangelism planning
A group of Christian witnesses are planning public evangelism outreach at the popular boardwalk in Seaside Heights following the upcoming local high school graduation. We are providing advice and guidance as plans are made for public preaching, display of gospel signs, and tract distribution.
April 2012 DUNN, N.C. Police stop amplified preaching
A preacher was told by a local police officer that he must not preach at a busy intersection using a megaphone. Review of the city’s noise ordinance and permitting procedures reveal that the city’s policies violate the First Amendment. We are contacting local officials to advise them of the constitutional concerns, and we expect to receive assurance that the preaching will be allowed to continue without interference.
November 2011 DAHLONEGA, GA
A group of evangelists were ordered by police to disperse when a large crowd which had gathered in opposition to the preachers became hostile. Police claimed that the preachers were “inciting” a breach of the peace and that their large sign violated the local sign ordinance. We have contacted the city attorney, and are providing analysis and advice to the Christian group.
October 2, 2011 PORT ORANGE, FL Public Ministry Workshop
We conducted a free seminar on Public Evangelism at Bible Baptist Church in Port Orange, Florida. Biblical and legal issues were covered, with emphasis on practical application and an opportunity for questions and answers. Following the instruction session we had an evangelistic street meeting at U.S. 1 & Dunlawton Avenue. About 20 people participated in public preaching and display of scripture signs.
September 2011 BUFFALO, NY Police say preacher is “too loud”
A local street preacher has been told that his preaching is too loud and is disturbing the peace. We are reviewing the situation and providing analysis and advice.
September 2011 PORT ORANGE, FL Liberty prevails for parade evangelism
After our further discussions with the City Attorney of Port Orange, the City has decided that it does not need a new ordinance regarding distribution of literature. Instead, the City has amended its parade policy to specifically allow distribution of literature at its annual Christmas Parade, both by parade participants and by members of the public.
August 2011 NEW LONDON, CT Police prohibit sidewalk evangelism
New London Police have ordered Christian evangelists to stop witnessing on the public sidewalk outside the Amtrack station. A group from a local church has been holding scripture signs and distributing gospel tracts on the sidewalk outside the Amtrack train station and in a public park across the street. Police have informed the group that this is “private property” and that they must leave the sidewalk by the train station if they want to display their signs and distribute their literature. This police order prevents the group from interacting with the substantial number of pedestrians who use that sidewalk, many of whom are approaching or leaving the nearby ferry. We will be advising the Christian group and contacting the local authorities on their behalf.
May 2011 LEDYARD, CT Free Public Ministry Workshop
We conducted a free PUBLIC MINISTRY/FIRST AMENDMENT workshop on Saturday,May 21, 2011 at VICTORY BIBLE BAPTIST CHURCH in Ledyard, CT. The morning session included instruction and Q&A regarding the Biblical foundation for evangelism, the constitutional right of free speech, and several legal and practical considerations. In the afternoon we took a group of over 30 people to New London for public evangelism. Bibles and gospel tracts were distributed; scripture signs were displayed; and the gospel of Jesus Christ was preached in the public square.
March 2011 DELAND, FL Free Speech charge dismissed
A Bible student was charged with violating DeLand’s noise ordinance for preaching on a public sidewalk near two downtown bars which had their loud music blaring. The preacher was cited for being too loud (based on a citizen’s complaint), but the bars were not. The DeLand ordinance prohibits “loud, disturbing and unnecessary noises.” We filed a Motion to Dismiss the charge because we believe the ordinance is unconstitutionally vague, subjective and overbroad due to the lack of sufficient objective criteria for enforcement. The City Prosecutor dismissed the charge.
February 2011 CHARITABLE STATUS APPROVED
Gospel Advocates, Inc. has received formal approval as a public charity under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. All donations to this ministry are tax-deductible.
December 2010 PORT ORANGE, FL Rights violated at Christmas Parade
A church group was ordered by the Port Orange Police to stop distributing gospel literature along the parade route of the city’s Christmas Parade. We have contacted the City Attorney to make the city aware of the constitutional violation and to seek assurances that this will not happen again. The city is drafting a formal policy for distribution of literature at its parades, and they have agreed to allow us to review and comment upon any draft proposal of the new policy before it is considered by the City Commission.
October 2010 ORLANDO, FL Evangelism at Gay Pride event
Christian evangelists participated in public ministry at the annual Gay Pride event at Orlando, Florida on October 10, 2010 without any hindrance from the promoters or the police this year. At last year’s event, Orlando Police would not allow the public ministers into the public park where the event was being held. The Christian witnesses were not even allowed on the sidewalk surrounding the park, but were ordered to remain across the street from the event. In the months that followed we had extensive communications with the Assistant City Attorney who serves as the Orlando Police legal advisor, providing caselaw and legal memoranda in support of the public evangelists’ First Amendment rights. The result was that the City Attorney’s office informed both the Police Department and the event promoters that the Christian witnesses have a right to be on the park property and on the sidewalk while they preach, display signs and distribute gospel tracts.
September 2010 BUFFALO, NY Police persuaded by our Free Speech Booklet
Our booklet, Public Evangelism Under the First Amendment, was used by a street-preaching brother in reasoning with a Buffalo, NY Police Supervisor regarding public evangelism activities at the Buffalo Wing Festival on Saturday, September 4, 2010. The Police Supervisor was persuaded to allow the preaching and distribution of tracts to continue.
August 2010 DUNELLON, FL City recedes from permit requirement
A church group wanted to preach, display scripture signs and distribute gospel tracts in Dunellon, Florida. The City of Dunellon has an ordinance that prohibits the distribution of any written materials anywhere in the city without first obtaining a permit from the city. The church’s pastor was aware of another street preacher who had trouble with the Dunellon Police in the past. We contacted the City Attorney on behalf of this church group and explained that the permit requirement was an unconstitutional prior restraint upon protected speech under U. S. Supreme Court precedent. The City Attorney consulted with the City Manager and then sent a reply confirming that the questioned ordinance was outdated, that the City of Dunellon “respects all First Amendment Rights” and “welcomes” the pastor and his public ministry and “will govern itself accordingly.”