A group of five Washington state Christian street preachers who received prior approval of their public evangelism efforts but were nevertheless charged criminally under the guise of violating a noise ordinance won dismissals with the assistance of a nonprofit First Amendment legal defense group.
Police in Washougal, Washington, cited the five for disturbing the peace outside a high school in November. The group obtained approval for their activities from a code enforcement officer prior to the incident.
The street preachers stood on a public sidewalk at the edge of the high-school parking lot, holding signs and speaking to students as they left school after classes had ended. A school resource officer of the Washougal Police Department confronted the street preachers, stating they were breaking the city noise ordinance and telling them the school did not welcome their “protesting.”
One of the criminally charged preachers, who is not named, reportedly spent many years under the iron grip of the former Soviet Union. He held a sign with a Bible verse, handed out gospel tracts to students, and told them, “Jesus loves you.” The aggressive reaction from the school and the police reminded him of similar harassment and complaints to the KGB in response to his preaching in Russia, his attorney said.
The group was successfully represented by Kevin Snider of the Pacific Justice Institute. All charges were dropped after Snider explained to the prosecuting attorney in detail the unconstitutionality of the city’s ordinance.
“We cannot afford to lose our most basic First Amendment freedoms in America,” said Brad Dacus, president and founder of PJI. “It is sobering that what our clients experienced in this case reminded them of experiences in the former Soviet Union. We commend the prosecutor for agreeing to drop these charges, and we remain vigilant for similar threats to freedom throughout the country.”
In the last six months, PJI has represented numerous public evangelists against criminal charges in California, Nevada, Washington, Pennsylvania, Texas and Michigan.