The suit, Craft v. City of Richmond, alleges that police officers with the city violated the men’s First Amendment rights by demanding that they stop their “disturbing” and “offending” religious expression, which consisted of peacefully preaching to small groups, one-on-one witnessing, and handing out tracts.
Over the past two years, Virginia residents James Lee Craft, Matthew Ray, Ryan Walker, Rob Baird, and Nathan P. Magnusen were threatened with arrest while sharing the Gospel at different locations by Richmond police officers. Whether on public sidewalks or at public city events–such as the city’s annual Christmas Parade or its Watermelon Festival–officers demanded that the men cease their religious expression or move to other locations. In some situations, officers attempted to enforce the city’s vague noise ordinance and trespassing ordinance to get them to end their religious expression.
“Christians shouldn’t be threatened with arrest and silenced for expressing their beliefs at public events and on public property,” said Alliance Defence Fund-allied attorney Steve Taylor, of Chesapeake. “Denying Christians their free speech rights, protected by the First Amendment, is a practice that the city of Richmond should put to an end. Americans have the right to peacefully share their faith in public areas without being shackled by vague or overly broad ordinances. The Constitution does not allow anyone to be silenced simply because other people don’t like the content of the message being spoken.”
The lawsuit argues that the noise ordinance, as well as Richmond’s trespassing ordinance, were illegally enforced against the Christian men–and not enforced against other members of the public engaging in expression–because of the religious nature of the message the men were communicating.