I get seemingly random updates from the Alliance Defense Fund, an organization that could be compared to the Christian version of the ACLU. The last update I received was this afternoon, and it had a story that was frankly, scary. I will share it with you here.
December 2, 2008
Because Kevin Deegan loves the Lord and cares deeply for his fellow man, he likes to preach and hand out gospel tracts on the commons area of Ithaca, New York. He doesn't exactly stand out from the crowd. In fact, on any given day, on that commons, you can find any number of recreation activities, celebrations, demonstrations, rallies, musical performances, poetry readings, speeches, and other expressive undertakings underway. It's a lively, rowdy crossroads of the community.
Not too long ago, Kevin was preaching in that setting when some of the local constabulary approached and told him he'd have to be quiet. City ordinances, they explained, dictated that no sound could be made on the city streets and sidewalks if that sound was loud enough to be heard more than 25 feet away.
Kevin was understandably stunned. Under those restrictions, public sneezing would be illegal on the streets of Ithaca. So would almost every other activity then underway on the commons. Indeed, as a noise expert hired by the Alliance Defense Fund (which represented Kevin) testified, this city ordinance would outlaw even such everyday sounds as the clicking of boots, small children playing, a ringing cell phone, and normal-decibel conversations.
Not only was the law ridiculous, it was very selectively enforced – in fact, ADF attorney Nate Kellum couldn't find evidence that the city had ever invoked the ordinance against anyone except the evangelist. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit agreed and found in favor of Kevin's First Amendment right to free speech…even on the Ithaca Commons.
That was two years ago. Three months ago, a friend of Kevin's, Jim Deferio was standing at Kevin's accustomed spot on the commons, doing a little preaching of his own. He, too, was approached by police officers who told him he'd have to stop, since he was violating the same city ordinance their predecessors had invoked against Kevin.
The next week, Kevin went back to the spot with Jim, and the two of them were approached by police, citing the same law. Kevin produced a copy of the federal court order authorizing him to exercise his rights, but the officers told him – incredibly – that the order didn't apply to them – only to the specific officers who had confronted Kevin years earlier.
So, now ADF is representing Jim. We've filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Ithaca on his behalf, along with a motion asking the court to suspend the ordinance while the case moves forward.
"Christians shouldn't be penalized for expressing their beliefs, especially when a court has expressly upheld their right to do so, as is the case here," said ADF Senior Counsel Nate Kellum. "Police officers cannot step beyond their authority and illegally suppress Christian speech in defiance of a court order."
The complaint in the lawsuit Deferio v. City of Ithaca filed with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York is available at www.telladf.org/UserDocs/DeferioComplaint.pdf. The motion for preliminary injunction and memorandum in support is available at www.telladf.org/UserDocs/DeferioMPI.pdf.
Please pray for our lawyers, including ADF-allied attorney Bob Genant, who is serving as local counsel in this case. And pray for the judges who are hearing more and more of these kinds of cases, as First Amendment rights are being ignored with increasing frequency, especially as they apply to Christians sharing their faith.