MONTGOMERY COUNTY, MARYLAND — Attorneys for Center for Religious Expression filed suit against various officials of Montgomery County, Maryland on behalf of Michael Corral, who was blocked by local police from expressing his religious views on a public sidewalk in downtown Silver Spring, Maryland.
Corral came to the downtown Silver Spring area on March 23, 2012 and began to share his faith by reading the Bible and engaging people in conversation. He carefully chose a place on the public sidewalk that gave him access to people walking by without blocking the flow of pedestrian traffic. But local police officers told him that the public sidewalk was considered private property because a private company controlled it, and he could not engage in religious speech there. After trying to reason with the police officers about the public nature of the sidewalk, Corral was cited for violating criminal trespass laws.
“A city sidewalk is a quintessentially American public space,” said CRE Chief Counsel Nate Kellum. “Montgomery County’s policy of letting a private company controls the sidewalks and banning religious speech is unconstitutional.”
CRE wrote a letter to the county on Corral’s behalf in April, seeking assurances that he would be able to return to Montgomery County’s public spaces in downtown Silver Spring and engage in peaceful religious expression. Instead of granting him that assurance, attorneys for the county supported the police position, depicting the public sidewalk as private.
“Our hope is that the court will bring an end Montgomery County’s unconstitutional policy that enables a private entity to control the existence, content and viewpoint of expression on public sidewalks and ways in downtown Silver Spring. The policy is deeply troubling and is an affront the very notion of free speech.” said CRE Chief Counsel Nate Kellum.