The City of Buffalo, New York is now being sued after police are being accused of stopping a group of Christians from handing out Gospel tracts at a public event under threat of arrest. The incident took place at the 2011 Italian Heritage Festival where Gregory Owen, a friend and some of his family members were attending and handing out Gospel tracts. According to reports:
While handing out tracts to willing recipients on a public street during a public festival, Owen was approached by a police officer who declined to identify himself but told him that the Buffalo Police Department is “the law” and he should stop handing out tracts.
According to the lawsuit: “Subsequently, another police officer, Officer Slomka, arrived on the scene. She quickly informed Owen that they could not hand out tracts in the festival and explained that the prohibition was ‘by our orders.’ Owen asked for her name, and she replied: ‘Slomka, write it down.’ Owen advised that he believed the tracts to be free speech; nonplussed, Officer Slomka reiterated that they couldn’t hand out tracts there and had to go outside of the festival area to continue with their expressive activity.”
Then, “Owen inquired as to whether they would be arrested if they continued to hand out tracts in the festival area, to which, Officer Slomka replied: ‘Yes.’” (source).
The Alliance Defense Fund, a legal advocacy group that defends the right to free exercise of religion for Christians, is representing Owen in the lawsuit. “The Constitution and court precedent in these types of cases is clear: Officials cannot toss someone out of a public event simply because they don’t like the views he’s expressing,” said Nate Kellum, the lead attorney on the case. “This is a classic example of free speech that the First Amendment protects.”
According to the complaint, while Owen and his friends were being reprimanded by police officers other people at the Festival were distributing non-Christian literature and fliers freely to the people who walked by, with no interference from police. The officers explained that by giving out Christian materials, Owen was violating the permit granted to the Festival organizers. The Alliance Defense Fund disagrees with this point strongly:
“In truth, the city issued a non-exclusive use permit to festival organizers that does not prohibit members of the public from exercising their free speech rights protected by the First Amendment. The event was free and open to the public, and the street remained at all times a public thoroughfare.”
ADF Litigation Staff Counsel Jonathan Scruggs argued “exercising your constitutionally protected free speech rights is not a crime.”
“Threatening to arrest Christians simply because they choose to exercise those rights in a public place is a clear violation of the First Amendment,” he said. (source)
Eventually Owen and his group had their tracts taken from them and were ordered to leave the event altogether (a video of the incident can be seen here). This is just the latest in a series of incidents where the religious freedoms of Christians are being threatened. Pray for the success of the Alliance Defense Fund in their suit against the city of Buffalo and for Christians like Gregory Owen to continue to stand for the faith and share the good news of forgiveness of sin and eternal life in Jesus Christ.
The persecution of Christians is now clearly coming to the shores of America. Spiritual forces of darkness are inciting and inspiring unprecedented hostility against Jesus Christ and those who adhere to Biblical teachings. Church denominations disagree over many aspects of the Bible but there is no confusion as to what is the primary mission of every Christian on the planet: sharing The Gospel. It is on the shoulders of the saints of The Lord Jesus Christ to tell people all over the world the good news that Jesus Christ came to die and take the punishment for the sins of humanity and through faith in Him, any person, no matter how great their sin, can be forgiven and receive eternal life. So if you are a Christian, have you been sharing the Gospel? Have you let people in your home, school or job pass by without letting them know that without Jesus Christ they face an eternity in Hell because of their sins? Let this event be a time of self-reflection on what Jesus said before returning to Heaven:
And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen. -Matthew 28:18-20