NATCHITOCHES, LA--Today the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana filed a lawsuit on behalf of a lone protestor who was denied his free expression rights by the City of Natchitoches. Edwin Crayton, a devout Christian, sought to stand in front of Wal-Mart in Natchitoches with a sign protesting Wal-Mart's alleged position on gay marriage.
"Government violates the principles in the First Amendment when it puts an overbroad permit scheme in place to restrain free speech in a public place," according to Joe Cook, Executive Director, ACLU of Louisiana. "The sweep of the ordinance is so wide that it could encompass a chance meeting on the street corner by two strangers."
Mr. Crayton peacefully picketed for about 40 minutes on a public sidewalk with a sign that said "Christians: Wal-Mart Supports Gay Lifestyles And Marriage. Don't Shop There." Then, he was approached by a Natchitoches police officer who refused to allow him to continue without obtaining a permit from the City. Mr. Crayton received permission from the chief of police to hold an "open air meeting," but he also needed permission of the Mayor. Despite the passage of several weeks since his application, the Mayor has still failed to approve Mr. Crayton's request.
"The right to be heard on matters of religious and political significance is at the core of our constitutional system," said Katie Schwartzmann, Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Louisiana. "The City of Natchitoches has effectively silenced Mr. Crayton on what for him is an important religious issue, and this type of government censorship cannot stand unchallenged."
The lawsuit contests not only the application of the permit requirements to Mr. Crayton, but also asks that the court declare the permit requirements unconstitutional as to anyone. The Natchitoches City Code completely forbids any public gathering, but provides exceptions for parades, or for an "open air meeting" where one has a permit for same.
The ACLU successfully challenged a similar New Iberia ordinance in 2002. In that case, a lone protestor carried a sign in front of a store to protest its gun sale polices and was threatened with arrest by a police officer.
The ACLU is the oldest and foremost defender of civil liberties embodied in the Constitution. The ACLU defends the rights of individuals without regard to their beliefs or the message they convey, which may differ from the organization's polices or positions.
Cooperating Attorney Jane Johnson and Staff Attorney Katie Schwartzmann serve as counsel for the plaintiff.
To see the complaint filed October 27, 2006, click here.