Charges were dropped against a Sacramento-area youth pastor who was arrested while sharing his Christian faith one-on-one with shoppers at a mall.
Matthew Snatchko, who regularly takes a small group of youth from his church to the Galleria Mall in Roseville, Calif., said he was interrupted by a security guard May 8 while in the middle of a conversation.
Pointing out no one has ever complained of his activities at the mall, Snatchko told WND the guard demanded he leave because he was “walking around and talking to people.”
The pastor, 23, said he “kind of laughed,” insisting he wasn’t doing anything wrong, because “everyone else was walking around and talking as well.”
A second security guard then joined the encounter and informed Snatchko he was being placed under citizen’s arrest for “trespassing.” The pastor says he agreed to leave peacefully, but, instead, the guards grabbed him, roughly shoved him against a storefront window and handcuffed him tightly enough to draw blood. Snatchko later was taken to the police station where he was booked on charges of battery and trespassing.
With the youth pastor facing a court date, the senior pastor at his church contacted the Sacramento-based public-interest legal group Pacific Justice Institute.
Affiliate attorneys for the group, Gregory Koonce and Timothy Smith, said the district attorney’s office likely realized the arrest was illegal and decided to drop the case “in the interests of justice.”
A civil suit is now being considered against the mall for violating the youth pastor’s First Amendment free-speech rights.
Brad Dacus, President of Pacific Justice Institute, said that while Snatchko has been successfully defended, the dismissal of charges did not set a precedent, leaving others vulnerable.
Koonce said, “This won’t be the last time a shopping mall tries to shut down evangelism. I wish I could say this kind of thing won’t happen in the future, but we just can’t say for sure.”
Snatchko told WND: “I believe what they were doing was wrong. Anyone who has any common sense knows you can’t stop someone because of the topic of conversation, when no complaints are being made and there’s no visible distraction or discomfort. To say you have to leave because you’re talking about a certain thing is wrong.”
Matthew McReynolds, counsel for Pacific Justice Institute said experiences like Snatchko’s are all too common.
“Shopping malls cannot selectively have people removed because they hear people talking about their faith with a willing listener,” he told WND. “That kind of a tactic is something for George Orwell’s ’1984,’ not for us of America.”
McReynolds said California’s constitution actually is broader than the federal constitution with respect to free speech, providing protections to people in quasi-public forums such as shopping malls, as well as in public forums.
“Private institutions are not free to openly discriminate against customers who may be of Christian faith,” he said.
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