Jersey City, New Jersey — Charges pressed against five Christians who were cited for evangelizing in a public park without government permission, and for causing some hearers to be upset with their Gospel message, were dismissed today in a New Jersey municipal court.
“The prosecutor and the state dismissed charges against all five defendants,” attorney Demetrios Stratis, who is representing the men, told Christian News Network. “All the defendants are very happy.”
As previously reported, Robert Parker of Millstone, New Jersey and several Christians from Bread of Life Fellowship in Wayne were cited last October as they witnessed to passersby in Journal Square in Jersey City. One of the men, Richard Corniel of Paterson, a Marine who had served in Iraq, was preaching the Gospel when he was approached by Officer Chris Baker, who immediately shut down Corniel by asserting that a permit was required for his activities. Baker then informed the men that they were in a “private park” and that they “need[ed] a permit to congregate.” He radioed backup, stating that there was “a large congregation with no permit.”
Baker also repeatedly demanded identification from all of the Christians under the threat of arrest. Parker said that at first he declined, but the officer insinuated that if they provided identification, everything would be fine. However, that did not turn out to be the case.
“He told us, ‘That will cost you $250 a piece,’” he recalled the officer stating. “He said, ‘Anybody who is with them gets a ticket.’”
Parker explained that Baker later confiscated the mobile phone of Alexander Solis of Plainfield, who was recording the incident. The officer contended that it was against the law for Solis to record police activities, and that he was taking the phone as part of an investigation.
Additionally, police told the Christians that they were not allowed to hand out tracts in the entire city without government permission.
“He kept asking me, ‘Do you know where you’re at? Do you know where you’re at?” Parker outlined.
When the supervising officer arrived on the scene to assess the situation, he agreed with Baker. The Jersey City Police Department further outlined that because members of the public were upset with the message being proclaimed, the officers had a right to prevent potential violence. They advised that in such cases, police protocol is to disperse the crowd and silence the speaker.
The Christians were all issued citations alleging “breach of the peace” violations, but today, those charges were dismissed.
When asked if the men have concerns about returning to the park, attorney Demetrios Stratis said that he exhorted the Christians this morning not to let adversity stop them.
“I told them, ‘Gentlemen, get out there and continue preaching, and I’ll keep defending you,'” he stated. “That was my charge to them and I think they’ll be back out there.”
Stratis said that while police asserted that the park was private, the fact that it is used by the public solidifies its characterization as a public area.
“Something can be owned privately and be used as a public thoroughfare, and therefore, it is a public forum,” he explained. “Parks are a quintessential public forum.”
He said that Christians need not cower to tyranny or surrender their rights to utilize public areas.
“These five men, they stood up for their rights,” Stratis stated. “It may be difficult to do, [but] we need to be able to stand up for our rights, including the right to preach the Gospel.”