By Hunter Hines
Christian Action League
September 21, 2018
LINCOLNTON – A free speech case that involved a street preacher went before a District Court on Monday, in Lincolnton, NC. Jeffrey Dean Shook prevailed against a charge that he had violated a new ordinance in that city which critics argue was designed specifically for shutting-down street preachers.
Street preachers have been attending public events such as the Apple Festival and Alive After Five concerts in Lincolnton over the last few years.
During an Alive After Five concert event in the city last June, Shook was standing on a public street preaching from the Bible and quoting Scriptures, as he had done dozens of times before without incident. He wasn’t obstructing traffic, intimidating concert-goers, or using amplification. Nevertheless, he was arrested and issued a citation for “Disruptive behavior at a public event by using abusive language which could likely cause a fight or a brawl.”
Shook was the first person arrested under a revised Lincolnton city ordinance that prohibits “any person or group of persons willfully making any loud, raucous, or disturbing sound that – because of its volume, duration, and character – annoys, disturbs, frightens, injures, or endangers the comfort, health, peace, or safety of reasonable persons of ordinary sensibilities.”
Shook was represented in court by the National Center for Life and Liberty (NCLL) based in Largo, Florida. His attorneys argued the street preacher hadn’t used any abusive language and presented no risk of a fight or brawl. Furthermore, videos taken of Shook established he wasn’t too loud. He was actually near one of the bands playing and could barely be heard over their intense volume.
Founder and Senior Attorney of the NCLL, David C. Gibbs III, hailed the court’s decision in a quote provided by email to the Christian Action League. Gibbs said:
“The NCLL is privileged to have successfully defended Jeffrey Shook, a peaceable street preacher who was arrested while exercising his constitutional right to freedom of speech on the public streets of Lincolnton, NC. The city council of Lincolnton has been attempting to prevent street preaching in this city. Fortunately, for hundreds of years, the First Amendment to our United States Constitution has protected this right for street preachers as well as others. No ordinance may constitutionally be enacted to cancel the First Amendment right to freedom of speech on public streets.”
Ron Baity, President of Return America in Wallburg, NC, also celebrated the court victory.
Baity said in a mass email to supporters that he had been approached by several people who said the city was putting pressure on street preachers to stop preaching, and they felt “they had nowhere to go for help.” “Immediately,” Baity said that Return America “went to work to bring in capable people whom God used to win the case…”
Baity said he was always concerned “the outcome of the case could affect every ministry that fulfills the Great Commission of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” He added that he was “grateful to our Dear Lord for allowing us to win the legal case.”
Thursday, Barbara J. Weller, an attorney on staff at NCLL for 23 years, told the Christian Action League in a telephone interview that to the extent the Lincolnton city ordinance is not unconstitutional on its face; it was unconstitutionally applied to Shook.
Weller explained that ordinances like Lincolnton’s can be arbitrary. If the language of the ordinance itself is too arbitrary, she said, it’s unconstitutional on its face. Such ordinances may be constitutional in the way they regulate noise levels, behaviors that can incite a riot, etc. – things that street preachers don’t do anyway. But she added if the ordinance happens to be too arbitrary in one particular circumstance, then it’s unconstitutional in the way it’s applied.
Weller asserted the policeman who arrested Shook for street preaching and charged him with conduct allegedly “disruptive” or “abusive,” was provided an unfettered discretion for one police officer that is unconstitutional. She stated, at worst, the Lincolnton ordinance Shook was arrested under is itself unconstitutional, and, at the least, it was unconstitutional in the way it was applied.
“I think this case stirs mixed emotions, even for some Christians, who have witnessed street preaching and feel somewhat squeamish about that type of evangelistic approach,” said Dr. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League.
“The methods employed by some street preachers, I fear, may garner more attention to their method than their Savior. At other times, I’ve observed street preachers that I thought were impressive,” said Creech. “They courageously engaged the crowd, proclaimed the Gospel of Christ with eloquence, addressed questions and critics with skillful apologetics. Still, the method, style, or even the effectiveness of any street preacher is not pertinent to the law. Speech that annoys, offends, or disturbs someone’s comfort level, is supposed to be the most protected kind of speech.”
“Cities and towns have no constitutional authority enacting laws that seek to shut down free speech, especially on a public street, which is a protected forum. Such ordinances are doubly wrong and should either be repealed or knocked down in court.
“God bless Jeffrey Shook, Return America, and the NCLL for standing up to this. No matter how well-intended the passage of such ordinances, they are an invasive form of government overreach.”
The NCLL also announced in their email to the Christian Action League that since charges against Shook were dismissed, the next step would be to file a free speech lawsuit in federal court against the Lincolnton City Council. Shook’s twin brother, Jeremy, who is also a street preacher and peaceably preaches in Lillington, would join Jeffrey in the lawsuit.