“Religious speech is just as important, and just as protected by the First Amendment, as speech about any other subject at any time of day,” said Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Joseph La Rue who is acting as co-lead counsel. “New Orleans cannot make criminals of people simply because they want to talk about their faith.”
On October 26, 2011, Mayor Mitch Landrieu approved a religious speech ban that prohibits loitering or congregating on Bourbon Street “for the purpose of disseminating any social, political, or religious message between the hours of sunset and sunrise.” This provision bars any form of religious expression at night on Bourbon Street. Anyone convicted of violating this ban will be fined and imprisoned up to six months.
In May, a pastor from Vieux Carre Assembly of God Church was told by police that he could not continue discussing religion on Bourbon Street, even though he had been preaching there for the past 30 years every Tuesday and Friday evening. The pastor shared his faith and offered hope to those voluntarily willing to listen, without ever soliciting funds or harassing anyone.
Since the religious speech ban has been in effect, several people communicating a religious message have been arrested or threatened with arrest. Fearing arrest, the pastor has stopped going to Bourbon Street to discuss his faith. In the meantime, a variety of non-religious expression is allowed on the strip without consequence.
“City Officials in New Orleans have chosen to criminalize speech about faith while allowing just about every other conceivable topic to be discussed and exposed,” added La Rue. “It’s not up to the government to decide the topics we can and cannot discuss. The First Amendment protects an individual’s freedom of speech. This law should be declared unconstitutional.”
Louisiana-based attorney R. Bradley Lewis, one of more than 2,200 allied attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom, is serving as local counsel, in addition to allied attorney Nate Kellum of Tennessee who is co-lead counsel.
Gros v. City of New Orleans was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.
Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly Alliance Defense Fund) is an alliance-building legal ministry that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.