NEW ORLEANS—After a brief telephone hearing as part of a lawsuit filed earlier today, the ACLU of Louisiana won a temporary restraining order on behalf of a member of Raven Ministries, an evangelical Christian group which has been targeted by the New Orleans Police Department under the French Quarter "Aggressive Solicitation" ordinance passed last year.
Enforcement of §54-419(c)(4) of the aggressive solicitation ordinance – the section that bars offensive speech, and nighttime social, political or religious speech on Bourbon Street – is temporarily suspended. There will be another hearing in approximately 10 days to determine whether to continue the injunction.
The ACLU's original release is below.
ACLU CHALLENGES FRENCH QUARTER ORDINANCE RESTRICTING FREE SPEECH
Christian Group Files Suit Over Unconstitutional Section of "Aggressive Solicitation" Ordinance
NEW ORLEANS—The ACLU of Louisiana filed a lawsuit today on behalf of a member of Raven Ministries, an evangelical Christian group which has been targeted by the New Orleans Police Department under the French Quarter "Aggressive Solicitation" ordinance passed last year. The group's leader, Pastor Troy Bohn, as well as other members of his congregation, was arrested while attempting to share their religious message on Bourbon Street.
The members of Raven Ministries do their best to comply with local ordinances and the demands of police, and until the arrests of September 14, 2012, no member of Raven Ministries had ever been penalized or cited for his or her French Quarter religious activities.
The section of the ordinance under which Pastor Troy and the other members of the ministry were cited states that no person shall "in any public or private place, shall use offensive, obscene or abusive language, or grab, follow or engage in conduct which reasonably tends to arouse alarm or anger in others," and goes on to say that it is "prohibited for any person or group of persons to loiter or congregate on Bourbon Street for the purpose of disseminating any social, political or religious message between the hours of sunset and sunrise." (§54-419(c)(4) After their arrest, Troy and his fellow congregants were briefly held at the police station. Upon their release, the members of Raven Ministries were told by NOPD that if they returned to Bourbon Street, they would be arrested again.
Raven Ministries does not solicit donations from passersby, nor do they use hate speech or offensive language in their ministry. They preach a message of love and salvation. They typically display a large cross, and wear t-shirts saying things like "I Love Jesus" and "Ask Me How Jesus Changed My Life." They ask people if they are familiar with the Gospel, and invite conversation; however they do not harass, follow, or make physical contact with passersby.
"[This] is nothing more than a heavy-handed attempt by the City of New Orleans to selectively regulate the cultural, political and religious tone on Bourbon Street," writes ACLU of Louisiana Senior Staff Attorney Justin Harrison in the complaint. "Because only messages of a social, political or religious perspective are restricted, the section imposes a particularly egregious [First Amendment] restriction." The complaint also cites the unconstitutional overbreadth and vagueness of the section, and points out that the language of the section poses a threat not just to public speech, but to private speech as well.
The ACLU of Louisiana is demanding a temporary restraining order immediately suspending enforcement of the section of the ordinance in question. "Bourbon Street has long been a center of public expression, and nowhere in the City does the First Amendment provide more protection to those wishing to share their views. My client and the rest of Raven Ministries' congregation have a right to peacefully preach their faith there free of government interference." said Harrison.