CRE files lawsuit on behalf of Christian evangelist who is barred from sharing his faith at a public park during a public festival celebrating the Fourth of July
LA CROSSE, WISCONSIN — May 7, 2013. Ryan Woodhouse filed Complaint and Motion for Preliminary Injunction today against City of La Crosse, Wisconsin and various city officials in the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, challenging park and city policies that preclude him from speaking or handing out literature regarding his Christian faith in a public forum. Woodhouse is represented by Center for Religious Expression.
Riverside Park, a public park situated in downtown La Crosse, hosts an annual four-to-five day event called Riverfest that encompasses and celebrates the Fourth of July. The event is free and open to public. Just like all other times, Riverside Park remains freely accessible during the course of Riverfest. Yet, on July 4, 2012, Woodhouse was stopped by La Crosse police officers from sharing his Christian message in the area.
Riverside Park maintains a policy that prohibits any literature distribution without park approval and Riverfest officials did not want Woodhouse conveying his views by any other means during the event. On this basis, La Crosse police officers required Woodhouse to depart under the threat of arrest.
“It is ironic that on this day celebrating America’s independence – and the freedoms we all enjoy as citizens in this great nation – the City of La Crosse infringes on Ryan Woodhouse’s First Liberty, his fundamental right to engage in religious expression,” said CRE Chief Counsel Nate Kellum. “The First Amendment protects religious speech as much as any other type of speech. City of La Crosse is wrong to censor it.”
Woodhouse attempted to resolve the matter back in the fall when counsel wrote the City Attorney asking for written assurance that Woodhouse’s freedom of expression be acknowledged. With no relief forthcoming, the lawsuit was filed.
Woodhouse seeks relief in federal court so he can convey his Christian views in public during this year’s and future events. “Ryan only wants the opportunity to share his Christian message during Riverfest without fear of arrest,” Kellum explained. “He should be able to exercise that right on July 4 and every other day of the year.”