A federal civil rights lawsuit has been filed on behalf of a 67-year-old Georgia man who was arrested, held in jail for two days and convicted without being given access to a lawyer for passing out Gospel tracts on a public street.
The action was brought by the Alliance Defense Fund on behalf of Fredric Baumann, who was arrested on the orders of police chief Mike Eason.
The ADF said a Georgia Superior Court earlier this month agreed to its request to overturn the conviction of Baumann, “a Christian man whom Cumming police arrested in April for passing out religious literature on a public sidewalk.”
“Christians have the same First Amendment rights as anyone else in America and cannot be treated as second-class citizens,” ADF Senior Legal Counsel David Cortman said. “The government should not force them to get special permission before practicing their constitutional right to free speech.
“The fact that the court dismissed the charges against Mr. Baumann is not just significant for him but for all citizens who cherish their First Amendment rights,” he said.
A spokesman in the Cumming police department told WND there would be no comment on the case.
The case bears a number of similarities to a case about which WND also has reported, when two members of Gideons International were arrested for handing out Bibles on public property in Key Largo, Fla.
The ADF also was involved in that case, and has reported a Florida judge dismissed all counts against the Gideons.
Bauman had been arrested April 22 for handing out the tracts outside the City of Cumming fairgrounds. Police told Baumann he was violating a city ordinance requiring organizations to obtain a permit prior to such activities.
However, the ADF said, the permit lacked definitions for its provisions, and then said it only applied to private organizations or groups of three or more persons.
The man asked several times to see the ordinance, but was refused. He then served two days in jail and was convicted before a municipal court judge, who sentenced him to time already served.
The trial came without notification to Baumann, so he had no opportunity to seek legal counsel, the ADF said.
“City officials not only acted illegally when they arrested Mr. Baumann, they denied him his constitutional right to due process under the law,” Cortman said. “We are glad that this injustice has now been reversed and that Mr. Baumann’s right to free speech has been affirmed.”
The subsequent civil rights action, then, seeks to have the ordinance, which prosecutors later admitted did not apply to Baumann, struck down. It also is seeking compensatory damages as well as punitive damage from the city.
“The city denied Mr. Baumann his constitutional right to free speech and due process under the law. We are filing a civil lawsuit to have the city’s unconstitutional ordinance struck from the books so this doesn’t happen again to Mr. Baumann or anyone else,” Cortman said.
The complaint alleges violations of free speech, due process and equal protection provisions as well as false arrest and false imprisonment.
The actual city rule reads, in its pertinent part: “Every private organization or group of private persons who wishes to use public property or public roads within the municipal limits of Cumming, Georgia, for private purposes in holding a parade, assembly, demonstration, road closing, or other activity is hereby required to have a permit from the City for the privilege of engaging in any such activity within the City, unless such a permit is prohibited under State law or the activity is otherwise exempted by law, ordinance, or other valid regulation.”
It also defines “private organization or group of private persons” as “any firm, partnership, corporation, association, or group of individuals more than three in number, or their representatives, acting as a unit.”
The law firm said besides the constitutional issues, the law on its face didn’t apply to Baumann as an individual.
The lawsuit said Bauman handed out tracts to people willing to take them, without using any amplification or hindering traffic in any way.
“At approximately 1:15 p.m., Mr. Baumann observed Chief of Police Mike Eason speaking to Mr. Baumann’s acquaintance who was distributing religious literature on the public sidewalk near Gate C. Mr. Baumann approached the pair and learned of Chief Eason’s demand that the two men immediately leave the vicinity for ‘demonstrating without a permit,’ Mr. Baumann politely inquired of Chief Eason as to whether the two men possessed a constitutional right to peaceably distribute religious literature on the public side,” the filing said.
“Chief Eason, visibly irritated at Mr. Baumann’s inquiry, abruptly stated: ‘Well, I guess he wants to get arrested.’ Immediately Chief Eason ordered Mr. Baumann to be placed under arrest for ‘demonstrating without a permit’ so as to constitute an ‘illegal demonstration.’”
The case said Baumann never was informed of his right to obtain counsel, nor did he have an opportunity to post bail.
“While incarcerated, Mr. Baumann requested use of his his reading glasses so that he could read his Bible …; this request was denied,” the filing said. He also was denied an opportunity for exercise “to offset a medical condition that causes chest congestion when he remains sedentary.”
Then without advance notice, he was taken to court where he asked the charges to be dismissed. Instead, the court listened to Eason’s testimony and convicted Baumann.
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