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Not-So-Free Speech at Not-So-Fair Event

Bakersfield, California — January 6, 2016. The Center for Religious Expression (CRE) sent a letter on behalf of Nathaniel Runels to officials of the Kern County Fair, asking them to lift their ban on free speech at the Kern County Fair.

On September 26, 2015, Runels and a friend paid admission and entered the Kern County Fair, a public fair managed by a state-run organization and held on public property. Runels positioned himself out of the way and began sharing his faith to fairgoers as they passed by. Although some disagreed with Runels’ beliefs, the dialogues remained civil and peaceful. However, after one such conversation, a sheriff’s lieutenant approached Runels and ordered him to cease talking with people. Runels politely explained that he had a right to convey his beliefs, even if others disagreed with his message, but the sheriff’s lieutenant rejected this assertion, seized Runels by the arm and dragged him out of the fair. For reason, the sheriff’s lieutenant claimed that a fellow fairgoer’s dislike of the message constituted a “peace disturbance.”

Runels sought out and spoke to fair representatives, hoping to prevent a similar incident in the future, but the fair representatives indicated that Runels would not be allowed to return and share his views unless he paid $1,200 to rent a space, just to have a conversation with someone.

CRE’s letter explains that free speech is a hallmark value of the First Amendment that cannot be eliminated or subject to an exorbitant fee.

“Runels just wants to attend the fair like any other fairgoer and share his views at the same time,” said CRE Chief Counsel Nate Kellum. “The Constitution protects his right to do so, even if some might not agree with his religious views.”

Center for Religious Expression is a servant-oriented, non-profit 501(c)(3) Christian legal organization dedicated to the glory of God and the religious freedom of His people. For more information, visit http://www.crelaw.org.

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