A pastor and Coast Guard chief in North Carolina is facing possible citation or arrest over a city ordinance that bans free expression without government permission.
Pastor Adam Gray says that he is going to continue to preach on the public streets and sidewalks of Elizabeth City, North Carolina despite the ordinance, which is listed under the city’s regulations on “pickets, parades and public gatherings.” Gray, who pastors Albemarle Reformed Church in Elizabeth City, says he believes that the city’s permit requirement is unlawful.
“I don’t think it’s a Biblical or constitutional [ordinance],” he said. “When man’s commands conflict with God’s commands, then we are supposed to obey God and not man.”
Gray explained that although he has been preaching on the streets for two years, he has never been told that he needed prior permission to do so. It was not until last month while setting out to engage in evangelistic activity near a Halloween event that he was told by Elizabeth City police that the law prohibited him from speaking anytime or anywhere without a permit.
“I just wanted to simply go over and greet the officer and just let him know that we were going to be out of the way of traffic, and that we were going to be setting up off to the side, so we wouldn’t be in the way of anybody walking,” Gray explained. “That’s when he informed me that he thought we couldn’t do that without a permit.”
Gray was then directed to speak to the supervising officer, Sergeant Judge.
“He also said that he thought [we] couldn’t do that [because] of the ordinance, and that’s when he went and got the book and made a copy of the ordinance and gave it to me,” he explained.
The law as written states, “No person shall hold any public meeting or public demonstration, or deliver any public address, lecture or discourse, or conduct any parade, picketing or similar activity upon any of the streets, sidewalks, or within any of the parks of the city, or other public place in control of the city, without first obtaining a permit from the city manager.”
“They wouldn’t even allow us to set up and preach across the street,” Gray said. “I couldn’t quite understand the legality of an ordinance like that, that requires you to seek permission to practice free speech.”
Therefore, Gray is currently seeking assistance from a nationally-recognized legal organization in an effort to resolve the matter.
“As of right now, we’ve asked ADF (Alliance Defending Freedom) to try and be the advocate to repeal the ordinance,” he said. “They’re in the process of reviewing it to see if they are going to get involved and what the level of involvement will be for them.”
In the meantime, however, Gray outlined that he must continue to preach, even though as a military chief, he could obtain a strike on his record if found to be violating the ordinance.
“If I’m arrested, that arrest has to get reported to my command,” he said. “And if my command gets wind of it, depending upon what happens from the arrest, the command could take me to what’s called ‘non-judicial punishment’ or could also simply counsel me and formally document my counseling as a violation of an ordinance on my permanent record.”
Gray said he will be returning to the streets with others this weekend.
“We are going to go out tonight and preach,” he said. “I recently found out that there was a very tragic car accident involving some high school students, and we are going to take the opportunity to go and preach the Gospel.”
“We’re going to continue to preach, and whatever comes of it, comes of it,” Gray concluded.