Free Speech at Thunder Beach
June 03, 2016
Panama City Beach, Florida — June 3, 2016. The federal district court for the Northern District of Florida entered an agreed order and judgment in favor of Richard McMahon and against Panama City Beach, guaranteeing that McMahon will be free to peacefully share his faith at future Thunder Beach events.
McMahon attempted to hand out gospel tracts and talk to people about God’s love at Frank Brown Park during the 2015 Spring Thunder Beach event. But Panama City Beach police insisted that McMahon could not do so in the public park simply because the private organizer of Thunder Beach had concocted rules against such expression. The police warned that if McMahon did not comply, he would be arrested for trespass.
CRE filed a federal lawsuit on McMahon’s behalf and secured a preliminary injunction which allowed him to share his beliefs without trouble at the 2016 Spring Thunder Beach event. Faced with this turn of events, Panama City Beach consented to a court order declaring the City’s policy of empowering private entities to control speech in public parks unconstitutional, and prohibiting the City from doing so again in the future.
“The significance of this victory cannot be overstated: public places are perfectly appropriate places to share one’s beliefs, and that remains true when a public event or festival is taking place,” said CRE Chief Counsel Nate Kellum. “The government cannot make First Amendment rights contingent on the whim of a private festival organizer or anyone else.”
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.