An evangelist from Oregon is scheduled to plead not guilty today in a case involving his arrest last month for asserting his right to preach on the public sidewalk to attendees of a rural harvest festival.
Andy Schmelzer says that he was preaching and witnessing at the Myrtle Point Harvest Festival on September 22nd when he was stopped by local police. According to the Myrtle Point Chamber of Commerce, “the event attracts thousands of visitors who spend the day strolling up and down the streets.”
“[A group of people] were surrounding the officer, and they were all pointing to me,” Schmelzer told Christian News Network.
He stated that Officer Aaron Gilbert of the Myrtle Point Police Department, and minutes later, a sergeant in plain clothes, approached him and claimed that the city-wide event was a private festival and that he could not engage in evangelistic activity. Schmelzer had been standing on a public street corner in an area that had been blocked off to vehicular traffic.
“They said that there were people that were upset with the message, and that I could have possibly started fights,” he explained.
The promoter of the harvest festival also began to talk to Schmelzer and likewise stated that he had to leave.
“He said that he had leased the area and had a permit, so he could state what can and can’t go on,” Schmelzer said.
“You can’t tell me what I can’t talk about,” he recalled replying.
Schmelzer said that he was advised that the matter would be resolved “as long as you put this stuff away and stop.”
He then began to explain his constitutional rights to the police as laid out by the 9th Circuit, which included the right to engage in free speech on public property that has been reserved for an event under a permit.
“I wasn’t going to argue with the guy, but I was like, ‘Hey, this is what the laws on the books state,” Schmelzer said. “That’s when the officer told me to shut up about that, and that he wasn’t going to talk about it anymore.”
Minutes later, when he continued to engage in private discussion with the promoter about his rights under the law, he was placed under arrest.
“That’s when the police said, ‘That’s it. You’ve been warned,'” Schmelzer outlined. “Just because they heard me talking about it.”
He states that he was then transported to the local police station, where officers took his mugshot and fingerprints, and advised that they “did not want to see him again” that weekend. Schmelzer was charged with disorderly conduct, but his citation did not list a specific reason for the charge.
“They just knew that they wanted to appease their buddies and their groups,” he said. “I obviously struck a nerve [by explaining my rights].”
Schmelzer is to appear in court today for the initial pleading proceedings. He will plead not guilty, and is being represented by a local attorney after having much difficulty locating any national Christian legal organization that provides assistance with criminal matters. Schmelzer’s trial date will be set following the pleading.