But the city government does not apologize to Boyd brothers and calls officers conduct appropriate
By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
HICKORY – Police officers and municipal officials in this Catawba County city are no doubt more informed about the U.S. Constitution and the freedom of speech it guarantees after the Alliance Defense Fund came to the aid of Christians falsely arrested here this past summer for sharing their faith.
In a letter to the ADF last month, the Hickory Staff Attorney said the City recognizes the rights of people to “engage in freedom of speech activities at Union Square and other public forums within the City of Hickory and will diligently work to ensure those rights are protected.”
Union Square was the location where a pair of Christian brothers, Jesse and Matthew Boyd, were handcuffed and charged with second-degree trespassing while talking with others and handing out religious tracts during a public concert June 27. Although the charges were dropped after the Boyds retained the Christian Law Association of Seminole, Fla., to represent them, they were given no guarantees from the city that they would not be arrested again when trying to witness. In fact, more than one city official, including the Chief of Police, characterized arresting officers’ actions as “appropriate.”
“These statements have a significant chilling effect. They strongly suggest that my clients, and others who wish to engage in expressive activities in traditional public forums, will be subject to arrest for engaging in similar speech in the future,” wrote Timothy D. Chandler, ADF legal counsel, in a letter demanding that Hickory take corrective action to ensure that the Boyds and others engaging in expressive activities in public forums be fully protected and that the Boyd’s records be expunged.
“Christians shouldn’t be penalized for expressing their beliefs,” Chandler said in an ADF press release. “It was unconstitutional to charge these men with a crime simply because they chose to share their faith peacefully in public. But now the city of Hickory should be commended for responding so well to respect the First Amendment rights of its citizens.”
The city’s response, dated a day before the deadline, said that the Hickory Police Department recently conducted a “legal update in-service training for all of its officers. A part of this training involved a discussion of the Hickory Alive incident and a review of applicable Constitutional law and the freedoms the law affords to all persons attending such events.” The letter touted the fact that the Boyds and other members of Full Proof Gospel Ministries had shared their faith at the July 4 Hickory Alive event without incident.
Signed by Hickory staff attorney Arnita M. Dula, the response letter did not admit any wrongdoing on the part of arresting officers at the June 27 event nor did it include any type of apology to the Boyds for their false arrest. Dula wrote that the District Attorney is the only one who can handle the expungement of the Boyds’ records. Calls to the District Attorney Jay Gaither’s office requesting information on the matter were not immediately returned.
Meanwhile, Jesse Boyd, who has shared his faith verbally and via leaflets, in cities across America and beyond, said he was not personally impressed with the letter from Hickory officials.
“They averted the issue of city officials and the Chief of Police calling the officers’ actions ‘appropriate’ in a July 18th Hickory Daily Record article,” Boyd said, adding that the initial reaction of the city should send a “dangerous message to all Christians in the area.”
Nonetheless, Boyd said the city’s promises to ensure citizens’ freedom of speech will be put the test Oct. 10, 11 and 12 during Hickory’s Oktoberfest.
“We will be out there distributing tracts and open-air preaching,” he said. “I don’t know what to expect.”
To learn more about Boyd’s Full Proof Gospel Ministries, log on to www.fpgm.org.