El Paso, Texas — March 27, 2020. The Center for Religious Expression (CRE) filed a federal lawsuit today challenging a City of El Paso policy that prohibits a Christian from evangelizing on a public street during a city-run Farmer’s Market.
On August 24, 2019, Ryan Denton went to the Union Plaza area of El Paso to share a message of hope about God’s love with people attending the El Paso Downtown Artist and Farmer’s Market, a free and open event that occurs every weekend in El Paso. Denton planned to have friendly conversations with people and hand out literature with a Christian message. He stood out of the way and didn’t cause any kind of disturbance or cause any problems.
But less than a minute later, Denton attracted the attention of the director of the market, who, along with a law enforcement officer, approached Denton and told him to stop his expression.
The director informed Denton that the street was not open to free speech, particularly, his Christian speech, during the Market.
He emphasized that market rules prohibited Denton from proselytizing, and as a city employee, he was bound to enforce them. The law enforcement officer warned that if Denton did not cease evangelizing he would be arrested. Not wanting this outcome, Denton left.
Hoping to resolve the conflict, Denton contacted CRE, which sent a letter on his behalf to El Paso officials, pointing out the constitutional concerns with banning Denton’s speech from the public street during the publicly-held Market, asking the City abandon its ban. But the City refused, sending a letter confirming it would continue to enforce market rules, including a flat ban on religious “proselytizing.” CRE filed a lawsuit to secure freedom for religious speech.
“El Paso’s blatant discrimination against religious speech violates core constitutional principles,” said CRE Chief Counsel Nate Kellum. “El Paso cannot selectively censor religious messages and ban evangelism during a Market that is free and open to the public.”
Center for Religious Expression is a servant-oriented, non-profit 501(c)(3) Christian legal organization dedicated to the glory of God and the religious freedom of His people. For more information, visit http://www.crelaw.org.