There’s an old saying that one should refrain from bringing up religion or politics in polite company – presumably, in an effort to avoid controversy. But does this notion hold true on a public street?
The New Orleans City Council seems to think so. Last year, they passed an “aggressive solicitation” ordinance that bans loitering or congregating “for the purpose of disseminating any social, political, or religious message between the hours of sunrise and sunset.” If convicted for violating the ban, individuals can be imprisoned for up to six months.
Something is wrong with this picture. Bourbon Street – known for its bars and strip clubs and being home to Mardi Gras and the Southern Decadence parade – prides itself on being a venue where anything goes and anything can be expressed. Except now individuals aren’t free to share their religious or political views, at least not at night, when people are actually there. Even assuming patrons of Bourbon Street could qualify as “polite company,” this ban is terribly misplaced.
Bourbon Street, like other streets, sidewalks and parks, is the epitome of the public square. It is precisely where people should be free to express their ideas. We might have to be careful about what we say around the water fountain at work, Granny might not be pleased about us bringing up a controversial topic over Thanksgiving dinner, but we should certainly be able to share our views on religion or politics on Bourbon or any other street.
Our right to do so is firmly rooted in First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That’s why we have brought suit on behalf of Pastor Paul Gros to challenge this ordinance. Pastor Gros has a church just one block off of Bourbon Street and he wants to go there every Tuesday and Friday night and declare the good news of Jesus Christ. We’re prayerfully optimistic that Pastor Gros’ right to share the gospel will be acknowledged and upheld by the court soon.
There’s always a place for religious and political discussion… and that’s the public square.
Posted by Nate Kellum