Federal Judge Halts New Orleans’ Ban on After-Sunset Evangelism

A national legal organization has announced that it has obtained a temporary restraining order against New Orleans’ Aggressive Solicitation ordinance, which bans evangelistic activity and all free speech after sunset on Bourbon Street.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Louisiana states that it obtained the restraining order during a brief telephone hearing this afternoon. The organization had filed suit earlier in the day, requesting that the court grant a temporary freeze on the ordinance until the case moves forward in federal court.

The ACLU represented Kelsey McCauley-Bohn in the lawsuit, who was one of the six Christians that had been arrested last Friday night while ministering on Bourbon Street in the city’s French Quarter. While not handcuffed and charged, McCauley-Bohn, along with the others, followed officers to the 8th Precinct station as per police directives, where the group was informed, “You are under arrest.” Three of the Christians, all men, were cited and face a trial date of October 31st.

McCauley-Bohn came to Christ in October of last year because of the outreach of RAVEN Ministries, the team that she now is a part of. She was adopted by the group’s pastor, Troy Bohn, and his wife Melanie. McCauley-Bohn had previously been working at a strip club on Bourbon Street.

While the Aggressive Solicitation ordinance used against McCauley-Bohn and the five others was crafted primarily to restrict panhandling and other forms of begging, it also includes a sentence that prohibits any type of free speech on Bourbon Street after sunset.

“It shall be prohibited for any person or group of persons to loiter or congregate on Bourbon Street for the purpose disseminating any social, political, or religious message between the hours of sunset and sunrise,” the law declares.

“Because only messages of a social, political or religious perspective are restricted, the section imposes a particularly egregious [First Amendment] restriction,” the complaint filed by the ACLU stated. “[Members of RAVEN Ministries] preach a message of love and salvation. They typically display a large cross, and wear t-shirts saying things like ‘I Love Jesus’ and ‘Ask Me How Jesus Changed My Life.’ They ask people if they are familiar with the Gospel, and invite conversation; however they do not harass, follow, or make physical contact with passersby.”

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District Judge Eldon Fallon, who was appointed to the bench by Bill Clinton in 1995, ruled this afternoon that the ordinance was likely causing “irreparable injury” to the constitutional rights of citizens.

“The Court finds that continued enforcement of New Orleans [Aggressive Solicitation] ordinance will result in an infringement of Plaintiff’s rights of free speech, and that the Plaintiff has demonstrated a likelihood of success that this infringement is impermissible under the United States Constitution,” Fallon wrote. “It is ordered adjudged and decreed that Plaintiff’s motion for temporary restraining order is hereby granted, and Defendants the City of New Orleans, Mayor Mitch Landrieu and NOPD Superintendent Renal Serpas, and their respective agents or employees, are hereby enjoined from enforcing or attempting to enforce [the] New Orleans Parish Ordinance.”

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed a lawsuit yesterday on behalf of another evangelist, Pastor Paul Gros, who was threatened with arrest in May of this year while preaching on Bourbon Street with his wife, another pastor and a friend. ADF was seeking a preliminary injunction against the ordinance.

Until recently, The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) had been assisting David Johnson, another Christian who regularly ministers on Bourbon Street. Johnson had been surrounded by mounted police officers during last month’s Southern Decadence Festival, a popular homosexual pride event, and was forced off the street under threat of arrest.

Following the incident, the ACLJ sent a 7-page demand letter on September 6th to the City of New Orleans, urging the city to cease and desist its threats against those who wish to engage in free speech activities after sunset. Earlier this week, the organization informed Johnson that it could not proceed with further legal action, in part because of a lack of resources.

Michael Marcavage of the national evangelistic organization Repent America, who called upon the Department of Justice this week to intervene in the matter, says that he is thankful that the injunction has been granted.

“Christians have done much to help New Orleans following the hurricane devastation that it suffered, from monetary aid to charitable work, yet the silencing of Christian speech is the thanks they get in return?” he asked. “I commend Judge Fallon for issuing the injunction, as from his ruling it is evident that he understood the severity of the situation.”

Marcavage also noted concerns over the lack of response from Christian legal groups, which did not seek an emergency injunction prior to the arrests of the Christians.

“Considering the blatant unconstitutionality of this ordinance, I was disappointed to learn that a Christian legal group did not step up sooner and seek emergency relief. The case is a slam dunk, and while I am grateful that somebody did something, the ACLU now stands to make thousands in legal fees to further unGodliness in our land,” he said. “I am thankful, however, for Christian attorneys who are working to defend freedom and those who face persecution, and am praying that God would raise up more believers who zealously desire to see Him glorified in the public square.”

The temporary restraining order remains in place until the court decides further on whether to grant a preliminary injunction. The next hearing is set for October 1st.

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