Indianapolis, IN – Liberty Counsel has successfully negotiated the language of a police department Legal Bulletin in the capital of Indiana that will clarify the free speech rights of street evangelists for local law enforcement officers, who were prohibiting constitutionally protected activity. In Indianapolis, a group of Christians distributing gospel tracts in the public rights of way at major events were being regularly shut down by law enforcement.
John Jacob, along with a group from the Good Messengers, was distributing tracts during the NCAA Final Four outside Lucas Oil Stadium on a public sidewalk, well outside the stadium property. Two police officers approached and questioned him. After learning he was handing out gospel tracts, Jacob was told, “You need to come with us.” He was escorted into the stadium building, where he had his belongings searched and was accused of illegally soliciting on private property. He was instructed to sign a trespass form, which he refused to sign on the basis of being on public property. Later he found out the form falsely claimed that he had been asked previously that day to leave. Others who were leafleting were also asked to stop and were told that the NCAA secured a six mile “restricted zone” around the stadium, where there could be no distribution of anything. The police claimed their leafleting activities made them vendors, and such activity was barred without permission of the event organizers. Similar treatment occurred at other events, such as Ribfest and the 500 Festival Mini Marathon.
Jacob contacted Liberty Counsel asking for help. Liberty Counsel sent a letter explaining the law and how it was being improperly applied. While the City-County provided the NCAA a “restricted zone,” where no vendors were allowed within a three-mile radius of the stadium, that cannot be used to silence noncommercial, religious activity. The City-County’s attorneys assured Liberty Counsel that they generally agreed with LC’s assessment of the law and have educated their police on the rights of evangelists.
Mathew Staver, Founder of Liberty Counsel and Dean of Liberty University School of Law, commented: “The beauty of our Constitution is its protection of religious activity. Many times local law enforcement officials are misinformed about their duty to protect freedom of speech and religious expression. We congratulate the city of Indianapolis for realizing their error and encourage other cities to take note of their actions. Liberty Counsel will vigorously defend the constitutional right to religious free expression.”