No ‘God Talk’: Or Face Arrest

The California Court of Appeal is considering the constitutionality of a shopping mall’s attempt to prevent adult patrons from talking to each other about topics such as religion and politics.

Matthew Snatchko, a youth pastor, struck up a casual conversation with two other shoppers at the Roseville Galleria Mall in 2006. Although had first obtained the shoppers’ permission to broach the subject, a nearby store employee disapproved and called mall security guards, who arrested him.

“He was put in handcuffs and hauled down to the mall’s security station and later booked at the local jail,” said Snatchko’s attorney Matthew McReynolds of the Pacific Justice Institute, a legal defense organization specializing in the defense of religious freedom.

Although criminal charges were later dropped, attorneys with Pacific Justice Institute filed suit challenging the mall’s restrictions on speech.

The mall’s rules say shoppers are not allowed to engage in conversations about hot-button topics like religion or politics, unless they already know the person they are talking to. Another mall rule bans the wearing of any clothing with religious or political messages.

“He wanted to make sure that neither he nor anybody else got harassed again at this mall or the 55 other malls this company owns throughout the United States,” said McReynolds.

In 2008, a California superior court ruled that the mall’s draconian rules didn’t violate freedom of speech.

Court documents claim that Westfield’s policy limits activities that have a “political, religious or other noncommercial purpose” to designated areas within the mall, so that it could “minimize congestion.”  Those who want to talk about issues must submit a written application at least four days in advance and is then awarded on a “first come, first selected” basis.

“It’s surprising that mall owners think they can arrest patrons for engaging in casual conversations,” McReynolds  said. “While a ‘don’t talk to strangers’ rule may be good for kids, enforcing it against adults is absurd, and we think it violates California’s free speech guarantees.”

Katie Dickey, spokeswoman for the Westfield Corporation, the company that owns the mall, didn’t address the case  or their strict policies , but stated “everyone — regardless of race, color, creed, gender or religious belief — is welcome at our shopping centers.”

Courtesy of Christian Law Journal at

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