MONTGOMERY COUNTY, MARYLAND — Today, a federal District Court in Maryland entered a judgment in favor of Michael Corral, who was barred by Montgomery County, Maryland from exercising his first amendment right to freely express his religious beliefs on a public way.
Corral had come to downtown Silver Spring, Maryland March 23, 2012 to share his Christian faith by reciting Bible verses and engaging people in conversation. He carefully chose a place on the sidewalk that gave him access to many people walking by without blocking the flow of pedestrian traffic. But local police officers warned Corral that the public sidewalk would be treated like private property, and because the owner of a theatre did not want his religious speech there, he would have to leave the area. After Corral tried to reason with the police, advising them of his first amendment rights in public forums, he was cited for violating criminal trespass laws and banned from coming back to the space for one year.
On Corral’s behalf, the Center for Religious Expression sent letter to the county, seeking assurances that he 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 needed assurance, the county continued to limit Corral’s speech. CRE filed suit on Michael Corral’s behalf in March of last year.
As the case progressed, Montgomery County had a change of tune, eventually admitting that Michael Corral was unconstitutionally banned from expressing his religious viewpoints, agreeing to pay nominal damages for the constitutional violations. These concessions are reflected in the court’s order.
“We’re thankful for this excellent result,” said CRE Chief Counsel Nate Kellum. “Private entities cannot rightly control the expressive viewpoints of citizens on public sidewalks and ways in downtown Silver Spring. As the court affirmed, this practice is unconstitutional. The freedom to express views on a public sidewalk is an essential aspect of our constitutional guarantees and no business has any business taking those rights away.”