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Source:  alliancedefensefund.org

ADF attorneys file lawsuit to help Christian denied his constitutional rights due to oppressive ordinance that bans offending another person

BATON ROUGE, La. — Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund have filed a lawsuit and a motion for preliminary injunction on behalf of a Christian man whom a policeman prohibited from sharing a religious message on a public street outside of a bar in the city of Zachary.  The officer cited a city ordinance prohibiting speech that is “annoying” or “offensive” to another person.

“Christian expression is not second-class speech and should not be treated as such,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot.  “Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened when a policeman for the city of Zachary threatened a Christian with arrest and prosecution simply because the expression was religious and some people might not like it.  The Constitution prohibits government officials from singling out religious speech for censorship.”

On the evening of Nov. 18, John Todd Netherland stood outside on a public easement to speak about his Christian faith about 75-100 feet from the entrance of a local bar.  Even though Netherland stood on public ground and not on private property, a police officer told Netherland he could not preach there and instructed Netherland to move instead to the far side of the public easement, closer to the street.  The officer then warned Netherland that if he stepped back to the place he’d been standing, he’d be arrested and sent to jail.

Netherland assured the officer that he would comply.  Nevertheless, the officer told Netherland that if he continued to preach, even in the new location, he would arrest him anyway, for “disturbing the peace.”  Netherland yielded to the officer’s demand and left the area.  Soon after, he called ADF for legal help, and on June 11, ADF attorneys filed a lawsuit on Netherland’s behalf.  On Tuesday, ADF attorneys also filed a motion for preliminary injunction, asking the court to keep city police from stifling Netherland’s speech at that location while the case moves forward.

The City of Zachary Code of Ordinances includes a section on “disturbing the peace,” which prohibits “addressing any offensive, derisive, or annoying words to any other person…or call[ing] him by any offensive or derisive name, or mak[ing] any noise or exclamation in his presence and hearing with the intent to deride, offend, or annoy him….”  The city ordinance does not, however, define any of the terms used, including “disturb,” “offensive,” “annoying,” and “noise.”  A copy of the ordinance can be read at www.telladf.org/UserDocs/ZacharyOrdinance.pdf.

“Both the city ordinance and the policeman’s application of the ordinance are blatantly unconstitutional.  There is no right for government to harass and threaten citizens exercising their First Amendment rights in public,” said Theriot.  “We hope the court will grant our motion for preliminary injunction so that Mr. Netherland can freely speak at his desired location on public property while this case moves forward.”

A copy of the motion for preliminary injunction filed at the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana in the case Netherland v. City of Zachary can be read at www.telladf.org/UserDocs/NetherlandPIMotion.pdf.

ADF is a legal alliance defending the right to hear and speak the Truth through strategy, training, funding, and litigation.
 

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