Sweetwater, Tennessee — November 14, 2017. The Center for Religious Expression (CRE), along with co-counsel First Liberty Institute, sent a letter today to Sweetwater officials, requesting they abandon an unconstitutional policy that prohibits Paul Johnson from sharing his faith on public ways during public events, subjecting individual religious expression to an onerous permit requirement.
Sweetwater officials stopped Johnson from speaking with others on a public way during the Solar Eclipse Festival on August 21, 2017. Though the event was free and open to the public, police and city officials ordered him to cease speaking or face arrest, on the basis that expressive activity is banned throughout the city without obtaining a permit in advance. Hoping to avoid a similar conflict in the future, Johnson returned to Sweetwater a few days later and sought to obtain a permit to preach during an upcoming festival. Yet, Sweetwater officials refused to issue one to him.
To regain Johnson’s constitutional rights, CRE and First Liberty Institute sent a letter to Sweetwater officials pointing out the unconstitutional nature of Sweetwater’s permit scheme, and requesting that Johnson be freely allowed to speak in the future.
“Every American has the right to share earnestly-held views in public,” said CRE Chief Counsel Nate Kellum. “No one should need government permission to preach.”
The letter further points out the intolerable burden on speech caused by the effective ban on public speaking in public places during public events.
“Courts have repeatedly held that the government cannot close off public places to free speech during events that are free and open to the public,” said Kellum.