Pastor Troy Bohn of RAVEN Ministries (Restoring a Vision and Evangelizing Nations) and his ministry associates were taken into custody as they were sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ after 10:00 p.m. with the many men and women who had gathered on the infamous street.
Bourbon Street is located in the French Quarter, and is most known for its preponderance of bars and strip clubs. It is the center of night life in the city and also a tourist attraction during events like Mardis Gras and the Southern Decadence Festival, which are known for featuring lewd acts in the streets. Bohn called the area his “mission field” as he has been preaching in the city since 1996. He said that he engages in evangelistic activity in New Orleans at least three times a week.
“Jesus saw the multitudes and was moved with compassion for them. … [Similarly], he’s given us a love for the city and the people here,” Bohn stated. “Would I be willing to go through somebody tossing beer in my face or cursing me out to reach somebody? Yes.”
He outlined that last night was typical of most nights as the group began sharing Christ with the crowds.
“We had our cross set up, and one young man that works with us [named Logan] was sharing the Gospel,” he explained to Christian News Network. “Some of the girls were talking to others.”
Bohn said that as the preaching went forth, a sergeant with the New Orleans Police Department approached, and so Bohn asked him what was the matter.
“[He said,] there’s an ordinance against aggressive solicitation and you are under arrest,” he recounted. “They began to handcuff Logan and they said, ‘We’re going to cuff you guys so you can’t take off.'”
Bohn said that as the incident unfolded, he heard the sergeant give the order, “Be sure to find out what church they are with because we are going to start going after these churches.”
“It kind of chilled me,” he stated. “Are we the threat preaching Jesus? No, I kind of like to think that we are holding back the darkness.”
Bohn explained that one of the women that was arrested, named Kelsey, was saved during their outreach at Voodoo Fest last October, and now goes out with the group to share Christ with others.
“A young lady had come by [one night] who was working at one of the strip clubs,” he recounted. “Something spoke to her that said, ‘Get out of there,’ and then she saw the cross and gave her heart to Jesus that night. … She’s just a totally changed person.”
“There’s a lot of Kelsey’s out there that are just looking for somebody in a dark place,” Bohn added. “So many of the girls are hooked on drugs, abusive situations and backyard prostitution.”
After the ministry team was placed under arrest, they were all marched down to the precinct house where they were held for one hour. Bohn and two others were charged with violating the ordinance; the others, including both women, were not processed.
As he was being held, Bohn confronted the sergeant about his comments, who stated that he was just following orders, although he did not agree with them. Bohn said that he asked the officer what he would do if the mere mention of Christ on the streets became illegal.
“I’m a Christian and I used to be a youth minister,” he remembered the sergeant responding. “And one day, I will have to cross that line.”
The sergeant then asked Bohn if the group planned on returning to Bourbon Street the following night. Bohn indicated that they were — ordinance or not.
“Well, I may be out there with you because I’m off tomorrow,” Bohn said that the sergeant replied.
The group was then released and returned home at approximately 2 a.m.
Last October, the City of New Orleans ratified the “Aggressive Solicitation” ordinance in an effort to not only curb the forceful solicitation of donations in the popular section of the French Quarter, but to also place limitations on political and religious speech. Former mayoral candidate Leo Watermeier recently advised that he has complained to officials that police are not enforcing the ordinance with consistency, noting that Christians are still gathering on the street after dark to speak out against homosexual practices. He believes that the law was crafted in part due to the significant number of religious “protesters” that are known to be on the street in the evening.
The section of the ordinance that Bohn and his team are being charged with violating states, “It shall be prohibited for any person or group of persons to loiter or congregate on Bourbon Street for the purpose of disseminating any social, political or religious message between the hours of sunset and sunrise.”
Evangelist Tony Miano, a 20-year law enforcement veteran who was once named “Deputy of the Year” by the City of Santa Clarita, California, says that the ordinance is problematic.
“I agree that this law is ridiculous,” he told Christian News Network. “I suspect that once rightly challenged, it will be overturned. … On its face it seems patently unconstitutional.”
Miano said that he believes the city is attempting to justify its actions by restricting free speech of any kind on Bourbon Street after dark.
“They think the language is such that as long as [they] silence everybody, then its okay to silence anybody,” he explained.
Miano stated that if he were currently serving as an officer and were faced with enforcing such a law, he would approach his superiors and attempt to find an alternate way to handle the matter.
Peter Fox, former 17-year Virginia deputy sheriff and patrol officer, who now serves as pastor of Safe Harbor Church and Community Center in Akutan, Alaska, agreed.
“We’ve all taken an oath to uphold the Constitution,” he said. “When you have someone who’s using freedom of speech, it’s our duty as law enforcement to let that speech take place.”
As previously reported, last month, a group of nine men not affiliated with Bohn’s ministry were also arrested for engaging in free speech on Bourbon Street after sundown. They had been speaking during the Southern Decadence Festival, a homosexual event that is marked by public drunkenness and open sex acts.
“I know it won’t end on Bourbon Street,” Bohn stated. “It’ll go to your street. It’ll go to my street.”
Penalties for violations of the “Aggressive Solicitation” ordinance include a $500 fine and a maximum of six months imprisonment.
Police were not available for comment at press time.
Editor’s Note: Those wishing to express concern may call the New Orleans FBI at 504-816-3000 and email [email protected] Complaints may also be lodged to the Department of Justice at 202-514-2151 and via email at [email protected]