Sunday, February 15, 2009
Ban on Christian speech outlawed,again:City had used unconstitutional restriction against evangelist
Officials in Ithaca, N.Y., have agreed again not to enforce an ordinance limiting the speech rights of Christians after they were caught ignoring a court order that banned the restriction.The Alliance Defense Fund, which won the previous case against the city, said the new development came this week in the form of a consent judgment signed by U.S. District Judge Glenn T. Suddaby.The issue was litigated a second time because the city ignored the court order banning the ordinance and applied the rule against the plaintiff in the latest case, Jim Deferio.City police officers last summer told Deferio he would not be allowed to talk about his Christian faith at Ithaca Commons, even after they were presented with a court order that prohibited then from enforcing the unconstitutional "noise" limit."Police officers cannot overstep their authority, defy a court order, and illegally suppress Christian speech," said ADF Senior Counsel Nate Kellum. "An ordinance already declared to be unconstitutional cannot continue to be enforced by city officials, and we are pleased this is recognized by the court."The court judgment said the city was "permanently enjoined from applying a twenty-five foot (25') standard in the enforcement" of its municipal code limit "or any other ordinance or policy against anyone in any public place engaged in unamplified speech that can be heard at a distance of twenty-five feet on the public streets, public sidewalks or public ways in the City of Ithaca."Further, the city is required to "inform and train all current and future police officers...on a regular basis, that they may not apply a twenty-five foot (25') standard in the enforcement of any city noise ordinance against anyone in any public place engaged in unamplified speech."Attorneys' fees of $13,000 and "nominal damages" of $4,000 were awarded to the plaintiff.The original 1999 dispute, involving Kevin Deegan, was settled early in 2008, according to ADF officials. The resolution included a court order prohibiting officials "from enforcing a municipal code that ... restricts sounds on public streets, sidewalks, or paths that can be heard from 25 feet."Deferio was in Deegan's accustomed spot on the commons, "doing a little preaching of his own.He, too, was approached by police officers who told him he'd have to stop, since he was violating the same city ordinance their predecessors had invoked against Kevin," the ADF said."The next week, Kevin went back to the spot with Jim, and the two of them were approached by police, citing the same law. Kevin produced a copy of the federal court order authorizing him to exercise his rights, but the officers told him-incredibly-that the order didn't apply to them-only to the specific officers who had confronted Kevin years earlier," the ADF reported.The ADF then filed an action on behalf of Deferio.The non-profit group said the original limits "would outlaw even such everyday sounds as the clicking of boots, small children playing, a ringing cell phone, and normal-decibel conversations.""Ithaca Commons is a traditional public forum bustling with the sounds of recreation,celebration, commerce, demonstration, rallies, music, poetry, speeches, and other expressive activities," the group explained.ADF-allied attorney Bob Genant served as local counsel in the lawsuit Deferio v. City of Ithaca.
As in the days of Noah...