Two men who are members of Gideons International, the Christian organization that is famous for, among other ministries, placing Bibles in motels and giving them to children, have been arrested after trying to hand out Bibles on a public sidewalk in Florida, according to a law firm.
Officials with the Alliance Defense Fund have confirmed they will be representing Anthony Mirto and Ernest Simpson, who were arrested, booked into jail and charged with trespassing.
Jeremy Tedesco, one of the ADF’s lawyers on the case, confirmed to WND that the organization’s clients were on a public sidewalk when they were handing out Bibles and school officials summoned police.
“The First Amendment protects the right to engage in religious speech on a public sidewalk,” ADF Senior Legal Counsel David Cortman said. “Members of the Gideons have been highly respected for decades as peaceful providers of free Bibles to those who want them.”
Principal Annette Martinson
The arrest happened Jan. 19, when Mirto and Simpson were on the sidewalk outside of Key Largo School in Key Largo, Fla., and were distributing copies of the Bible to those interested.
Monroe County Sheriff Richard Roth
“Neither man entered school grounds,” the law firm said. “After the school’s principal called police, a Monroe County sheriff’s officer asked the men to leave immediately or face trespassing charges. As the men prepared to leave, the officer decided to arrest both individuals.”
A hearing is scheduled March 5 in Monroe County Court in the cases, and ADF attorneys are preparing motions to dismiss the charges.
“Officials cannot use fear of arrest as a means of bullying law-abiding Christians into silence,” Cortman said. “These men broke no laws when they decided to communicate their message on a public sidewalk.”
Tedesco noted that sometimes school officials have a misconception about whether they can control activities on school grounds and adjacent public sidewalks. But the First Amendment does provide a protection for speech on those parcels of ground that are public, he said.
“There’s no reason why they should be put in jail,” he said.
In a statement to WND, Becky Herrin, of the public information office in the Monroe County sheriff’s office, stated as a fact the point that the defendants in the case clearly are disputing, and which ultimately may have to be decided by a jury.
“A copy of our police report (see attached) … clearly states that the people in question were arrested for trespassing on school property – not on a public sidewalk… In fact, they were given the opportunity to step off school property and onto public property, and they could have continued with their activities if they had done so. They chose instead to remain, against repeated warnings, on school property so deputies were forced to arrest them,” Herrin stated.
The report forwarded to WND, however, reveals the two were arrested while in their truck in a “no parking” zone. The report said that on the complaint from school principal Annette Martinson, when the two defendants were ordered by the deputy to leave an area that included a bike path, “both defendants slowly walked away towards a teal in color pick up truck that was parked in a no parking zone in front of the school.”
One suspect then wanted the officer’s ID, and, “I then handed Simpson … my business card and he continued to walk toward the parked truck,” said the police allegation from officer John Perez.
The officer then confirms, “I observed both defendants enter the pick up truck and remain seated inside.” He watched for several minutes, then approached the pickup truck, parked in a “no parking” zone, “I asked both defendants why they where (sic) refusing to leave,” and “Defendant Simpson III stated, we where (sic) just leaving.”
Perez then confirmed that after he got a call from the sheriff’s office notifying him that Simpson was complaining “about a deputy at the Key Largo School asking him to leave, I advised Sgt. Mixon I was out with Simpson and he was going to be placed under arrest for trespassing.”
“The truck was parked in a no parking zone in front of the school … not on a public street but on school property. The only ‘public street’ adjacent to the school is Highway U.S. One and there is no parking on the highway,” Herrin added.
The ADF is a legal alliance defending the right to hear and speak the truth, through strategy, training, funding and litigation.
The Gideons, a group founded in the late 1800s, has as its “sole purpose” the goal “to win men, women, boys and girls to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ through association for service, personal testimony, and distributing the Bible in the human traffic lanes and streams of everyday life.”
Members of the Gideons, who pay their own expenses so 100 percent of the donations to the group go toward Bible purchases and distributions, have placed the Bible in 181 nations in 82 different languages over the years.
The organization focuses on hotels and motels, hospitals and nursing homes, schools, colleges and universities, the military and law enforcement and prisons and jails.
“The demand for Scriptures in these areas far exceeds our supplies that we are able to purchase through our donations. Much more could be done – if funds were available. However, we are placing and distributing more than 1 million copies of the Word of God, at no cost, every seven days in these areas…” the group said.
The organization only gives away the Bibles with the Gideon logo on the covers, but plain Bibles are available for consumers to purchase at its distribution center at P.O. Box 140800, Nashville, Tenn., 37214-0800. Information about the products is available on the group’s website.
The Gideons serve as an extended missionary arm of the Christian church and are the oldest Christian business and professional men’s association in the United States.
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