By L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
July 27, 2018
LINCOLNTON – The First Amendment right of a person to express his beliefs in public could be put to the test next month when a case involving a street preacher in Lincolnton goes to court.
Preachers who frequently take to the streets of the Lincoln County seat have come under increasing pressure since the city of roughly 11,000 approved changes to its ordinances late last year. Now, its noise ordinance prohibits “any person or group of persons willfully making any loud, raucous, or disturbing sound that – because of its volume, duration, and character – annoy, disturb, frighten, injure, or endanger the comfort, health, peace, or safety of reasonable persons of ordinary sensibilities in the neighborhood or Central Business District.”
Jeffrey Dean Shook, a street preacher, was the first person arrested under the city’s new ordinance. Shook is to appear in Lincoln County District Court, Monday, August 20th.
According to the Lincoln Herald, street preachers have shown up at multiple public events in the town over the past few years, including the Apple Festival in 2016 and several Alive After Five concerts.
Some attending the events complained and, after consulting the North Carolina School of Government, the Lincolnton City Council decided to tweak its ordinance to make creating a disturbance at events a misdemeanor. They held a public hearing and received input from speakers for and against the proposal before passing it unanimously in December.
Throughout the process, members of the council insisted that they were not targeting the street preachers or trying to curtail the sharing of the Gospel, but wanted to give police clarity on how to enforce the noise ordinance, which had initially been passed in 1997.
Return America President Ron Baity doubts that is so.
“The bottom line is the city simply does not want street preachers on their streets,” Baity wrote in a recent email bulletin. “If street preachers lose their rights to preach on the streets, the pastors will not be far behind.”
He said his organization will help with the legal expenses of preachers fighting the new law, one of whom was arrested late last month at an Alive After Five event. According to the Lincoln Herald, the evangelist was taken to the magistrate’s office and released on his own recognizance.
“We would ask that you pray that First Amendment Rights will prevail in this serious matter,” he wrote.
David Gibbs III, president and general counsel of the National Center for Life and Liberty, is representing the preachers.
“I’m not sure that street preaching has ever been popular, culturally relevant, or socially acceptable, but it is a biblical means of Christian ministry by which many have come to know the Lord,” said Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “There are so many examples of it in the Scriptures: Jonah in the streets of Nineveh, the prophets of old heralding the Word of God at the City Gates, the disciples of Christ in many villages, Philip in the streets of Samaria, Paul in Antioch, and Apollos in Achaia to name a few.”
Creech added, “But there are street preachers who misrepresent Christ. Some even misrepresent street preachers. I’ve heard of some street preachers bringing a pig’s head on a stick to a Muslim festival. Some have pointed out women publicly for their dress and called them names. I don’t believe that’s the proper way. Just as concerning, however, are attacks on First Amendment rights of people trying to share their religious beliefs. We’re seeing more and more of this across the nation. I think there is legitimate reason to be concerned about the way Lincolnton’s new noise ordinance could suppress public religious expression.”
In the last six months, Pacific Justice Institute, a non-profit legal defense organization specializing in the defense of religious freedom and other civil liberties has represented numerous public evangelists against criminal charges in California, Nevada, Washington, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Michigan.