Princeton, New Jersey — An itinerant evangelist has filed a lawsuit in federal court after a charge that he had engaged in “tumultuous” preaching was dismissed in municipal court.
Mike Stockwell of Cross Country Evangelism was one of over a dozen Christians that went to the Princeton eating clubs in October 2011 to minister to students from Princeton University who were participating in weekend reveling.
“We went out there to proclaim the Gospel to [the students],” Stockwell told Christian News Network. “It was an evening when parties were going on, and people were drinking, and there was all kinds of vile behavior going on.”
However, it was Stockwell who was instead charged with engaging in inappropriate activity because of his preaching.
“That was part of the [charge], that I had engaged in tumultuous behavior,” he said.
The official violation, under New Jersey’s disorderly conduct statute, accused him of “engag[ing] in fighting or threatening, or in violent or tumultuous behavior.”
Stockwell states that there was never any “tumult,” nor did he fight with or threaten anyone.
“We weren’t singling out any specific sin,” he explained. “We were just preaching generally that sin is a reproach.”
Stockwell advised that before going to Princeton, the men had sought out permission to use amplification to preach, which was granted by Sergeant Carol Raymond with the Princeton Police Department. However, she changed her mind after students began to complain about the preaching.
“[The police] received complaints, and they came out and immediately told us to shut it off,” he said. “They also said that we couldn’t even use our bare voice above a normal tone. … It’s disturbing that we would be shut down while there was music playing and all this other nonsense.”
Video footage of the incident shows Raymond taking issue with the concept of open-air preaching. She commented that the men should rather only “talk to people as they go by.”
“You’re pushing your opinion on someone without just letting them listen,” Raymond stated. “You’re scaring people.”
When it was explained that Stockwell was engaging in open-air preaching as an evangelist, Raymond replied, “He’s not in a church.”
The other Christians with Stockwell then became confused about what they could and could not do.
“How low do I have to [speak]?” one man asked. Raymond replied, “Why can’t you just talk like you’re talking to me?”
“As long as you’re not blocking the sidewalk and you want to read out loud, that’s fine, but don’t be shouting though,” one officer adds. “If people are walking by and they’re interested in what you have to say, they’ll stop and listen to you.”
Stockwell said that well after he stopped preaching, he was cited for violating the law.
“When I got done preaching, I started handing out Gospel tracts, and about twenty minutes after that, they came over and they wrote up a summons,” he said.
However, the summons, which dealt with the local noise ordinance, was later scrapped and replaced with a disorderly conduct charge for “intentionally engaging in tumultuous behavior for the purpose of causing annoyance.”
Stockwell then had to appear in court on seven different occasions as his trial dragged out while the prosecution presented their case.
When the prosecution rested, Stockwell’s attorney, Mike Daily, moved for a Motion to Dismiss. In April 2012, the request was granted by the court, stating that it would be a far stretch to convict the evangelist under the statute.
Now, Stockwell has filed a federal lawsuit, seeking to gain the liberty for all Christians to share their faith freely in Princeton.
“This shouldn’t happen in America,” he said. “We should be able to go out there without any fear of being stopped or persecuted for using our First Amendment rights.”
“We’re hoping that if something comes of this lawsuit, that they would think twice about stopping people from exercising their First Amendment rights,” he added.