Street Preachers Arrested for Obstructing Pedestrian Traffic
Updated: May 25, 2005 07:45 PM
They hold up religious signs and set up camp along the strip preaching the gospel to anyone who'll listen. But now these street preachers say police are trying to give them the boot, and they say it's a violation of their constitutional rights. News 3's Alex Savidge reports from the strip to tell us why the ACLU is stepping in to help them.
When they stand out here on the public sidewalks of the strip, these street preachers say they're targeted by police who want them to clear out and that's why the ACLU is now threatening a lawsuit. This all comes after two of these preachers were arrested over the weekend -- an arrest that was caught on home video tape.
"You're standing on the middle of the sidewalk. You can't do that on the sidewalk." This is the videotaped encounter with police that now has two local street preachers fighting for their free speech rights.
"Never had a problem other than with police."
The man behind the camera is Jim Webber. On the tape taken Saturday night he's holding a sign that reads, "Jesus died for your sins." His partner, Tom Griner is holding his own religious sign. They both tell the police officers they have a right to be there and ask to see a supervisor.
"You're under arrest." That's when the officers grab their signs and cuff them. They were arrested for obstructing pedestrian traffic. "We're just getting harassed on a regular basis for reaching the gospel...something the constitution says we can do." "I think they're targeting us cause they want us off the streets. Our signs for a lot of people seem to be offensive."
But police say what's on their signs doesn't matter. County ordinances say you can't hold up anything, a sign or banner wider than your body on a public street because it gets in the way of people walking by.
ACLU attorney Allen Lichtenstein says that law is laughable. And he says he plans fight the city and county on behalf of these two street preachers. "It's really selective enforcement that can only be assumed to represent content discrimination." The ACLU says they will have to file suit against the county if police don't stop going after these street preachers. Both of the men we talked to say they aren't going to stop setting up their signs out here on the strip even after their arrests. Meantime, both of those street preachers are scheduled to appear in court in August on charges of obstructing pedestrian traffic.