The Rutherford Institute of Charlottesville, Virginia has issued a letter to attorneys representing the town of Holly Ridge, North Carolina, demanding that its police department be trained in the constitutional free speech rights of citizens.
The letter surrounds a situation that took place this past Independence Day when missionary Jesse Boyd and friend Ricky Springer were attending a fireworks display in the public park in Holly Ridge. Boyd distributed tracts and filmed Springer as he preached.
When one of the attendees who had been drinking began to take issue with the preaching, Sgt. Keith Whaley told Springer that he could not utilize the small amplification device that was clipped to his belt. As Boyd stepped in and tried to get clarification about what law Springer was violating, Whaley reportedly threatened Springer with arrest.
The officer returned later with the chief of police and, according to Boyd, again refused to provide answers. When they walked away, Boyd scolded the officers by saying, “This is the USA, not the Soviet Union. Shame on you, you need to repent . . . I am not disrespecting you; I respect your office, but not your manner. This is America.”
Boyd said that when he uttered the word “repent,” the officers turned back around and took him into police custody. He was transported to the Onslow County Jail approximately 45 minutes away, where he was held on $500 bond.
Boyd was then charged with disorderly conduct for “making utterances and using abusive language, intended and plainly likely to produce immediate violent retaliation” against the police.
Days later, District Attorney Ernest Lee advised Boyd that the case had been dismissed, citing “insufficient evidence to warrant prosecution.”
“[T]he verbal conduct in question must not only meet the definition of the [disorderly conduct] statute, but the verbal conduct must also not be constitutionally protected speech,” he wrote in documents filed with the court. “[B]ased upon the applicable law and the evidence leading to this charge, there is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Jesse Michael Boyd is guilty of disorderly conduct.”
The Rutherford Institute is now working to ensure that the Holly Ridge Police Department respects the free speech rights of all citizens in light of the incident.
“[O]n behalf of Mr. Boyd and Mr. Springer, the Institute demands that the Town take immediate action to rectify the grievous wrongs that were done to them by the Holly Ridge officers acting under color of their office,” the demand letter states.
“Given that these officers were clearly ignorant of the dictates of the Constitution they swore to uphold, as well as the constitutional rights of those they are duty-bound to protect, we seek your assurance that government officials will take proactive measures to ensure that officers demonstrate proper regard for the First Amendment in their future interactions with citizens.”
The legal organization also sought revisions to the town’s current noise ordinance, which it asserts is vague. A response was requested by August 10.