The Center for Religious Expression (CRE) filed a lawsuit in federal court February 7, 2020, challenging park rules that prohibit expression in a public park without permission.
Rodney Keister is a travelling missionary evangelist who wants to tell others about God’s love and forgiveness and pray with them. To share this message, on September 12, 2019, he went to LeBauer Park, a city-owned park in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina, held a sign with a Bible verse on it and handed out gospel tracts to willing recipients. He didn’t cause any problems.
Yet, he was soon approached by the executive director of the park, who claimed Keister’s expression was unauthorized solicitation. Keister explained he was just exercising free speech, but the director insisted that he could not conduct this activity without permission. Eventually, police arrived on the scene, but they backed up the director, warning Keister to leave the park. Not wanting to get arrested, Keister left.
CRE contacted the City of Greensboro on Keister’s behalf, pointing out the constitutional infirmity with the permission requirement in a public park, asking Greensboro to cease its unconstitutional ban. But, in response, Greensboro defended their rules, adding that Keister could not display his signs either, as they were deemed “offensive” by people complaining about them. Left with no alternative, CRE filed suit on Keister’s behalf, challenging the application of these unconstitutional restrictions in a public park.
“Permission requirements are onerous speech restrictions due to the risk of censorship and their burdensome nature,” said CRE Chief Counsel Nate Kellum. “Greensboro’s enforcement of park rules exacerbates this, directly censoring speech that someone else deems offensive. The First Amendment doesn’t tolerate such schemes.”
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.