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The federal government has backed off a ban it had imposed on free Bibles at a farmer’s market in Louisiana, according to the non-profit legal advocacy group Liberty Counsel.
Since 2011, Louisiana resident Shirley Elliott has sold produce and homemade jellies at Thibodaux Farmer’s Market near Jean Lafitte National Historic Park in Louisiana.
She also gave away Bibles to anyone who wanted one.
However, on Dec. 1, 2012, a park ranger told Elliott she could not give away Bibles at her table because “they were on federal property.”
Regulations allow vendors to sell locally grown produce and other homemade goods and handcrafts. Regulations also allow for “non-profit organizations with missions related to … education, youth and/or nutrition” to participate in the market on an equal basis as vendors.
“A decision to allow free distribution of the things mentioned above, while disallowing and requiring the removal of Bibles and other religious literature … would be improper and discriminatory,” Liberty Counsel attorney Richard Mast said in a statement to the superintendent of Jean Lafitte National History Park.
Two days later, the acting superintendent responded, saying, “We regret the misunderstanding regarding the distribution of religious materials.”
The superintendent said the National Park Service “respects the right of vendors to make free religious materials available.”
“Please assure Ms. Elliott that she is welcome to offer free Bibles at her produce and homemade jellies table.”
Liberty Counsel welcomed the response from the NPS.
“We are thankful that the Park Service reversed its decision and protected Ms. Elliott’s First Amendment right to distribute literature,” said Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel.
“Thankfully, Ms. Elliott did not allow herself to be bullied by those who want to remove Christianity from the public square,” he said.
“It is the right of every American to advocate a religious viewpoint. Offering books or literature to willing recipients is protected by the First Amendment. Mere disagreement with the content of the speech is not sufficient to deny those constitutional rights,” Staver said.