Town That Cited Street Preacher for Being ‘Annoying’ Must Now Answer to Federal Court

A national legal organization has filed suit against a New Jersey town for violating the constitutional rights of a local street preacher.

The Rutherford Institute of Charlottesville, Virginia is representing Ken Fleck in an effort to strike down the current noise ordinance of Manasquan, New Jersey. The ordinance prohibits “loud, unnecessary and unusual” sounds, “which either annoy, disturb or endanger others.”

In January of this year, as Fleck was engaged in amplified free speech activity on the public sidewalk in Manasquan, he was approached by a police officer, who informed him that he was violating the town’s noise ordinance. He then issued Fleck a summons to appear in court, and threatened him with arrest if he continued his activities.

During his arraignment, Fleck plead not guilty. He was later cleared of the charge on the grounds that the town did not produce evidence that Fleck had annoyed or disturbed others with his preaching.

On May 4th, attorneys with The Rutherford Institute filed a civil challenge against the town of Manasquan, asking a federal court to declare the ordinance unconstitutional as its language is vague and criminalizes protected speech.

“The United States has historically stood for unfettered free speech, which is vital to a functioning democracy. Unfortunately, the tendency on the part of government and law enforcement officials to purge dissent has largely undermined the First Amendment’s safeguards for political free speech,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “Whether you’re talking about a noise ordinance or a so-called free speech zone, the message from government officials is the same—there is no longer any such thing as unfettered free speech in America today.”

Fleck is seeking a judgment regarding violations of both his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

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