By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc.
July 11, 2008
HICKORY -It’s been two weeks since police arrested brothers Jesse and Matthew Boyd for sharing their faith on a public street during the Jaycees’ “Hickory Alive” event. And as of July 11, the city had yet to drop the charges or apologize for violating the pair’s First Amendment right to free speech.
“It is truly a sad day in America, the supposed ‘Land of the Free’,” wrote Jesse Boyd, 32, president of Conover-based Full Proof Gospel Ministries shortly after being charged with second-degree trespassing for “distributing Gospel tracts freely at a free public access event on the town square in Hickory.”
The Christian Law Association of Seminole, Fla., is representing the Boyds and Gibbs Law Firm, general counsel for CLA, issued a letter July 1 to the City of Hickory, the Hickory Police Department and the Hickory Jaycees asking that charges be dismissed and that the organizations not interfere with the Boyds’ First Amendment right to distribute religious literature at future events in Hickory.
“The City’s arrest of FPGM (Full Proof Gospel Ministries) members rests on nothing more than religious content-based and viewpoint discrimination. This is constitutional quicksand,” the letter stated. “This exercise of unbridled official discretion violates not only the First Amendment, but also the parallel provisions of the North Carolina State Constitution and statutory law.”
Hickory Police Chief Tom Adkins said Thursday that his department has launched an administrative investigation to gather “all the facts and circumstances of the incident that occurred on June 27 in Downtown Hickory during the Hickory Alive event.”
“This will give us a better understanding of the events which led to the arrests of Jesse and Matthew Boyd,” the Chief said, maintaining that the city and his department “understand the sensitive nature of the issues of Freedom of Speech and the Freedom of Religion granted by the Constitution …,” but declining to further discuss the incident. The Boyds are slated to appear in court on Aug. 26.
CLA attorneys and the Boyds said late this week that they could not discuss pending litigation. But Jesse Boyd had earlier posted details of the incident to his ministry’s Web site as well as a challenge to fellow believers.
“Christians in America need to wake up and realize we are losing our freedoms to share the Gospel despite the clarity and guarantees of the law,” he wrote. “… If Bible-believing Christians do not stand up and speak out, all will soon be lost.”
According to Jesse Boyd, he and his brother as well as three other men attended the Hickory Alive event to evangelize. He had gotten involved in a witnessing conversation at the beginning of the evening and had not had a chance to begin passing out tracts when he realized that police officers had confronted his friends. He approached, turned on his video camera to record and asked what was happening.
“I then asked a total of three questions, and for that, I was arrested,” Jesse Boyd wrote. “…We were accused of trespassing, and I simply asked ‘What specific law are we breaking?’ twice. They gave me no real answer, so I then explained that I had a copy of the Hickory Code of Ordinances in my backpack and that I needed to know how we were breaking the law. I guess that was enough for them, for they immedicately handcuffed me and led me away.”
The video clip, taken by a cell phone camera passed between the men, includes audio of officers telling Matthew Boyd, 29, to leave, after which he asked what law he is breaking. He told police he was not passing out tracts, but was simply standing there amongst the crowd. Nonetheless, he too was cuffed and taken away.
Jesse Boyd said the charge against him reads that he was refused entrance to the town square by the man in charge of the event and two police officers and that he adamantly refused to leave, entering against their orders.
“Of course, none of these men ever approached me with such orders,” he wrote on his Web blog. He said earlier in the evening his friends were told that it was OK for them to be there and talk to people but that they were not allowed to distribute Gospel tracts.
“This is amazing because the Hickory Code of Ordinances says clearly in Section 21-2: ‘No person shall distribute any circulars or other advertising matter within the fire limits of the city, provided, that this section shall not apply to religious literature circulated from person to person,'” Boyd wrote. “At the root of the whole issue was Gospel tracts, and this is a right clearly protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.”
As word spread about the Boyds’ arrest, they received countless encouraging e-mails from Christians across the state, nation, and the world, and were thrilled to have more than 40 believers join them July 4 again at Hickory Alive to pass out an estimated 1,000 tracts.
“On a day marking the celebration of our nation’s independence, I preached in the open air concerning deteriorating religious freedom in America, the Biblical principles upon which the United States was founded, the Law of God as written on the conscience of every man, the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the command upon all Christians to preach the Gospel message even if it means persecution, imprisonment and death,” Jesse Boyd wrote regarding the Independence Day gathering, adding “Not once did the police bother us or insinuate that we should leave or stop.”
Boyd went on to say that he and his brother are not looking for fame, money or revenge against the City of Hickory or the offending officers. They simply want the charges dropped so that they will not interfere with getting entry visas into foreign countries where FPGM does mission work.
“All we seek is to have our criminal records expunged and to be left alone to share our faith freely and peacefully on the public streets, sidewalks, and squares of our hometown,” Jesse Boyd wrote on July 5. “After last night, I believe the right to proclaim the Gospel at Hickory Alive has been restored to us.”
The June incident was not the first time that FPGM members have had run-ins with Hickory authorities. According to the Web site, the group was threatened in 2006 over a similar incident; members have been hassled for witnessing to young people in parking lots along Hwy. 70 and told they could not stop to talk to teens in front of storefronts on a public sidewalk.
But the Boyds made it clear that they have also had positive encounters with members of the local police force.
“I remember a Hickory police officer giving us permission to preach open-air at Oktoberfest in the ‘beer garden’ last fall,” Boyd’s blog said. “In 2006, when the same threats were made about our distributing of Gospel literature in Union Square, a police superviser stopped the madness and told his subordinates to leave us alone. For men such as these, we should be thankful.”
The Boyds are hopeful that city leaders will again “stop the madness” so they can get on with their ministry’s mission of “making the Gospel of Jesus Christ an unavoidable issue for as many people as possible all around the world and just around the corner.”
To find out more about FPGM, see the ministry’s Web site at www.fpgm.org.