Syracuse, New York — April 1, 2016. Today, the Center for Religious Expression (CRE) filed a federal lawsuit against Syracuse officials on behalf of James Deferio, seeking to end a ban on Deferio’s Christian expression on a public sidewalk outside the Central New York Pride Festival.
In June of 2014, Deferio attempted to share his faith on a public sidewalk near the free public festival. Deferio did not seek to enter the festival area, but simply wished to tell people about Jesus’ redemption from the bordering sidewalk as people entered and exited. But on he was soon forced to leave by police who ordered him, on threat of arrest to leave the sidewalk because the festival organizer didn’t like what Deferio was saying.
Hoping to avoid the problem in the future, Deferio sent a letter asking Syracuse officials to cease their unconstitutional policy. And the City Attorney seemed to assure Deferio that he could exercise his First Amendment rights there at future Pride Festivals. But the very next year, in June 2015, police once again told Deferio that he would not be permitted to speak on the sidewalk, once again because the festival organizer didn’t like Deferio’s beliefs.
“Sidewalks are the prototypical example of a public place set aside for voicing beliefs, even if they run counter to what is politically popular,” said CRE Chief Counsel Nate Kellum. “The notion that police can ban speech because someone dislikes the viewpoint expressed is the most blatant and unconstitutional form of censorship conceivable.”