Patrick Moore and Dana Crow-Smith say that they were prohibited from giving away bottled water last Friday at the city’s monthly “First Friday” festival as they were witnessing to event attendees on the public sidewalk. The event is city-sponsored and is free to the general public.
Moore and Smith are just two of a growing number of Christians that have been meeting in downtown Phoenix in recent months to share the gospel of Jesus Christ during the festival through preaching, tract distribution and one-on-one witnessing. They estimate that approximately 25 people from a number of churches in the area turned out for evangelism efforts last week.
Smith told Christian News Network that she was inspired earlier in the week after reading Matthew 10:42, which states, “And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.”
She states that the verse gave her the idea to distribute cold water to attendees who were out on the streets in Arizona’s scorching desert.
“I thought it was such a confirmation by the Spirit that this is what I’m supposed to do,” she said. “We [all] thought it was something so small that we could do to show God’s love.”
Therefore, she contacted others that regularly witness with her, including Moore and his family, and asked if they could bring bottled water and/or ice.
Smith and Moore explained that as those participating in the outreach arrived, the group set up a table of tracts, Christian books and bottled water at the corner, which they planned to distribute to the approximate 8,000 to 10,000 attendees that were there battling the 112 degree weather. Smith also stood with a sign that read, “Stop for prayer here.”
However, they state that approximately 30 to 40 minutes later, after giving away approximately 10 cases of water, they were approached by an official with Phoenix Neighborhood Services. The organization is a code enforcement entity that only handles private property issues, and is complaint-based.
“He had a badge on, so I knew something was up,” Moore stated, who teaches a Bible study for senior citizens in Phoenix.
“I believe that somebody complained on us,” Smith added.
Moore and Smith explained that Neighborhood Preservation Inspector Dwayne Grierson then told the group that they were breaking the law by distributing water, and stated that they would be considered a “vendor” and needed a permit.
Moore said that he asked Grierson for the governing ordinance, and the officer returned with information outlining vending requirements on private property, which require a permit that costs $350.
When Moore contested the applicability of the law, he said that Grierson replied, “The ordinance is what it is, and I’m here to enforce it.”
Therefore, the group thought that perhaps instead of handing out the bottled water, they would just leave it on the table for those who wanted to take it voluntarily. However, Grierson outlined that it would also not be lawful.
“He said, ‘You still can’t hand it out,'” Smith explained. She offered to go across the street to the church property and conduct the outreach there, but Grierson again rejected the idea.
However, as they continued speaking, the inspector told her that she could finish what she was doing for the night, but could not do so again.
“He said that next time, if I don’t have a permit, that he will enforce it,” she stated.
Moore and Smith explained that they stayed and continued to witness, distributing hundreds of gospel tracts by the end of the night, and after a while, packed up the water and ice and left.
Grierson told Christian News Network that citizens are also “not allowed to do any vending on the public sidewalk” as per the city’s vending ordinance enforced by police. However, the ordinance only prohibits the “sale” of goods and mentions nothing that would prohibit free distribution.
Smith also asserted that her table was situated on a public sidewalk, and not on private property.
Smith said that she has faced other difficulties during the past six months that she has been witnessing in the city, such as being told by a local business owner that she could not even stand on the public sidewalk without obtaining permission from the adjacent business. Consequently, Smith conducts her outreach on the corner across from a local church during the monthly event.
When asked if there are problems with governmental restrictions on citizens in the city, Moore answered in the affirmative.
“[T]his is happening in Phoenix more, ” he said. “I’ve heard a lot of horror stories from people I know.”
He explained that he had read about the recent incarceration of Michael Salman over the city’s code pertaining to regular religious gatherings on private property and found it to be “mind blowing.”
“[T]hat’s unbelievable, but that’s Phoenix,” Moore stated. “If I want to have people over at a Bible study in my home, why does the city have a problem with it in the first place?”
In regard to last Friday’s crackdown by city officials, he stated, “It’s 112 degrees. To me, [shutting down someone who wants to give out free water] is ridiculous.”
The remaining bottled water was donated to a local shelter.