A street preacher who was ticketed and told to stop talking to passers-by in a Portland, Oregon public park is now suing the city for more than $300,000 for violating his free speech rights.
In June, Mark Mayberry was in Portland’s Waterfront Park holding a pro-life sign, handing out tracts and talking to people about the Gospel and his views against abortion. It was then that a park officer came up to him and told him he must stop what he was doing. Mayberry refused, saying he had a constitutional right to speak.
KOIN-TV reports that’s when the park employee wrote him a ticket for “failure to obey a park officer” and told him he could not come back to the park for 30 days. The citation also accused Mayberry of harassment for speaking to people in the park.
“While Plaintiff expressed views that were undoubtedly controversial to some, his speech and conduct were civil, peaceful, and by no means incendiary,” Hacke wrote.
Mayberry challenged the tickets in July, and the charges were thrown out. But his attorney says he’s not been back to the park.
“Despite being cleared to resume free speech activities at Waterfront Park without fear of penalty, Plaintiff has not returned to the park – largely due to well-founded fears that he will be cited again,” Hacke writes.
Mayberry is suing the City of Portland for claims amounting to about $307,000, believing the city should be held accountable for its unlawful acts against him. According to KOIN, in addition to money for mental and emotional distress, the lawsuit is asking the court to penalize the city for violating a Ninth Circuit US Appeals Court order from 2006 that made it clear the city could not restrict free speech at public events.
But Portland is not the only place where free speech, especially for street preachers and sidewalk counselors, is up for grabs. Seemingly innocuous measures like city noise ordinances in effect in most cities can restrict speech.
For pro-lifers in Chicago, of great concern are floating bubble zones. The American Center for Law and Justice says on its website that the City of Chicago has enacted “anti-speech bubbles” to stifle pro-life sidewalk counseling. A “floating bubble zone” is a legal restriction that prevents pro-life individuals from speaking within a certain distance of women going into abortion facilities. The no-speech zone moves along with the woman and surrounds her like an invisible bubble. Pro-life sidewalk counselors in Chicago have challenged the city’s bubble zone law as a violation of the First Amendment right to free speech, and the ACLJ has joined them in petitioning to be heard by the Supreme Court.
Speech codes proscribing what can or can not be said are impinging more and more on the preaching of the Gospel. Even the mere reading aloud of the Bible can be tagged as hate speech, if homosexuality is criticized, or if belief in Jesus Christ is presented as the only way to God. These are cropping up in America, but one of the most notorious incidents happened overseas where free speech is supposed to also be highly valued.
In March, Christian Concern in Britain launched a petition (“Christian street preachers should be free to share the gospel, even where it means challenging the beliefs of others”) after a street preacher in London was arrested earlier by police for what was termed a “breach of the peace.”
Video of the arrest of Oluwole Illesanmi from Nigeria went viral on social media.
Faithwire summarized the video, where officers can be seen forcefully asking the preacher to stop preaching, before arresting him.
“What are you doing here?” the officer asked the preacher, who was heralding the Gospel near Southgate Underground station in London.
“I am preaching,” he simply replied.
“I am going to require you to go away,” the police officer stated.
“Never,” the man responded.
“Well then, then I will arrest you for a breach of peace,” the police said.
“What breach of peace?” asked the Christian man.
“It’s what you’re doing at the moment,” the policeman explained. “You’re causing problems — you’re disturbing people’s days and you’re breaching their peace. If you won’t go away voluntarily, we will have to arrest you.”
“I will not go away, because I need to tell them the truth — because Jesus is the only way, the truth and the life,” the preacher responded.
“But nobody wants to listen to that,” the officer snapped. “They want you to go away.”
At this point, the officer handcuffed the man, before an additional officer snatched his Bible out of his hands.
“Don’t take my Bible away,” the man cried.
“You should have thought about that before being racist!” the officer replied.
Faithwire asked the police for more information on the arrest and reported that police admitted that no one accused the preacher of saying anything racist despite what the arresting officer said. In fact, Christian Concern reports Olu was later “de-arrested” and “dropped off in an unfamiliar suburb without enough money to get home” following his shocking arrest.
“Thankfully, a kind member of the public gave him some money, but what did the preacher do next?” the group’s Facebook post added. “He went straight back to Southgate tube station and continued to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ that same evening.”
That brings to mind a couple of other street preachers. The apostles Peter and John were thrown into jail, and once released, were ordered to “no longer preach in this name.” They went right back to preaching Jesus Christ in the streets, too.