On The Front Lines
VICTORY: Texas Court Affirms First Amendment Rights of Street Preachers Arrested for Engaging in Sidewalk Protest and Crossing a Police Line
FORT WORTH, Texas — A Texas appeals court has thrown out the convictions of two street preachers who were arrested in Fort Worth, Texas, while attempting to cross a police line and join other citizens in the street who were protesting a gay pride parade. In siding with arguments presented by The Rutherford Institute that the preachers’ First Amendment rights were violated, the Court of Appeals acquitted Joey Darrell Faust and Ramon Marroquin of charges of interfering with police. In an opinion issued by Justice Lee Gabriel, the court found that Faust and Marroquin were singled out by police because of their membership with a church, which necessarily implicated their First Amendment rights.
“For police officers to take it upon themselves to prevent American citizens from exercising their First Amendment rights on public sidewalks simply because the officers don’t like their message or the brand of their particular religious beliefs moves us out of a constitutional republic and into a police state,” said John W. Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute and author of A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. “Thankfully, the Texas Appeals Court recognized that the beauty of the First Amendment rests in its tolerance of all viewpoints, no matter how politically incorrect, unpalatable or inappropriate they might appear to others.”
In October 2012, Joseph Faust and Ramon Marroquin, two preachers based in Fort Worth, Texas, were engaging in free speech activity on a public sidewalk during a gay pride parade. Both men were preaching, without the aid of any microphone or amplification device. A line-up of police officers separated the sidewalk from the street where the parade was taking place. When the two preachers attempted to cross the walkway, police officers arrested them before they were even completely off of the sidewalk. They were immediately arrested pursuant to the City Code’s vague ordinance that outlaws “interference with public duties.” In coming to the street preachers’ defense, Rutherford Institute attorneys argued that because the men were not interrupting, disrupting, impeding or otherwise interfering with anything the officers were doing and other persons were allowed to cross the police line, the police officers violated the First Amendment and lacked any probable cause for such an arrest. In upholding the Institute’s appeal on behalf of Faust and Marroquin, the Texas Appeals Court ruled that the police “skirmish line prohibited all members of the church from exercising their right of free speech merely because of their association with the church. This is far too broad a limitation.” Because the police had no basis for believing Faust or Marroquin would engage in violence or endanger public safety, police should not have arrested them for attempting to exercise their fundamental right of free speech.
Affiliate attorney J. Shelby Sharpe assisted The Rutherford Institute in its defense of Faust and Marroquin.