LA CROSSE, WISCONSIN — June 12, 2013. Ryan Woodhouse is now free to celebrate the Fourth of July in a way that best expresses liberty for him: sharing his faith in Riverside Park during the annual Riverfest celebration in La Crosse, Wisconsin. On Monday, a federal judge sitting in the Western District of Wisconsin granted Woodhouse’s motion for preliminary injunction sought on his behalf by the Center for Religious Expression, allowing Woodhouse to speak in the park.
Riverfest is an annual event held since 1983 that offers numerous events and activities to celebrate Independence Day in the park, attracting the public to Riverside Park, a public park located in downtown La Crosse. Last Fourth of July, in 2012, Woodhouse was forced by police officers under the threat of arrest to leave the park after attempting to share a Christian message because Riverfest officials did not want his message there.
“Religious speech is as protected as any other type of speech by the First Amendment.” said CRE Chief Counsel Nate Kellum. “It is wrong to censor that speech, but particularly egregious on the day we collectively celebrate our liberty as citizens of a free nation.”
Until May 2013, the City of La Crosse had an ordinance pertaining to literature distribution in public parks titled “Distributing or Posting Circulars Prohibited,” which provided that “No person shall distribute any circulars, cards or any other printed or written matter, excepting programs or concerts or entertainments, unless permission has been obtained from the Park Board or Park Director.” La Crosse Mun. Code § 10.03(M). After Woodhouse filed his lawsuit, La Crosse repealed the ordinance, but kept the ban on Woodhouse’s expression during Riverfest intact.
Granting the preliminary injunction, the federal court ruled that city officials cannot in any way restrict Woodhouse’s speech and literature distribution during the Riverfest events that are free and open to the public on July 4, 2013 at Riverside Park.
“We are pleased that the path has been cleared for Ryan Woodhouse ‘s message to those going to Riverfest this year and that he can exercise this freedom without fear.” said Kellum. “Putting his First Amendment rights to good use is a patriotic way to celebrate America’s independence.”