Evangelist Threatened With Arrest for ‘Scaring’ People Continues Suit Against IL Police

Rock Island, Illinois — An evangelist that was threatened with arrest in Illinois for scaring the public with the message of the Gospel is continuing his legal battle against police in an effort to regain his right to preach on the public streets.

Stephen Johnson told Christian News Network that his attorneys recently added the names of two Rock Island police officers to his official complaint in an effort to hold them accountable for their actions. Johnson, who lives in Colorado, but grew up in Rock Island, Illinois, stated that problems with police began in June 2011.

“I went on a street corner in downtown Rock Island, and was blocking no traffic, [and I used] no amplification,” he recalled. “I preached for about twenty minutes and handed out some tracts, and then the police came and told me that I was disturbing the peace — that I was raising my voice, and that I was cussing [by using the word ‘Hell’.] They said that what I was doing was illegal, and that if I continued, they would arrest me.”

Johnson, surprised by the actions of the police, contacted the Christian legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) for help. Attorneys with the organization then initiated a lawsuit which sought an emergency injunction, and Johnson thought that perhaps the legal action might have helped to open the door to preach the Gospel.

However, that was not the case when he returned to Rock Island in April 2012.

“I did pretty much the same thing: I preached about twenty minutes, and I handed out a few tracts,” Johnson explained. “[W]hen I got in my car to leave, … and as I was getting ready to start the car, the police zoomed up and turned on their lights, and told me to get out of the car.”

“They pretty much said the same thing,” he continued. “They said, ‘You’re not supposed to raise your voice or scare anybody and tell people they’re going to die.’ I said, ‘Well, what if that building’s on fire and I raise my voice and tell people if they don’t leave, they’re going to die? Is that wrong?'”

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Johnson said that the police still would not budge.

“They got all mad and said, ‘You can’t tell people they’re doing to die,’ and its like, ‘Well, they’re going to!'” he exclaimed with frustration in his voice.

The officers also took issue with Johnson speaking about Hell, which they considered “cussing.”

When he told the officers that he should have the freedom in America to express his beliefs, one of them replied, “The United States of America will put your [expletive] in jail.”

Johnson states that as his case has proceeded in court, the government has not been able to produce any law that he has violated, and because the court sees the matter as an isolated incident, it has not been willing to grant an injunction.

“The first time the police came up to me, they said there was a city ordinance that [says] you couldn’t raise your voice,” he said. “After we confronted them in court, the city said it was actually state law.”

However, the bigger issue in the case has been over Johnson’s use of the word “Hell.” He said that the government does not understand why it is a necessary part of his preaching.

“The last time we were in court, … [for approximately] a third of the proceedings they wanted to know why I use the word ‘Hell’ and why is it relevant to what I do,” Johnson explained. “They wanted me to actually produce Scripture that talks about Hell, and I did. … They figured that Hell was just a cuss word as they found it [as being] something that had no business being mentioned out in public.”

Johnson said that proceedings are continuing now that attorneys with ADF have included the officers in the lawsuit to personally hold them liable for their behavior. He stated that he is grieved about the entire situation.

“This is my hometown,” he lamented. “These are the people that I grew up with, and out of love for those people and out of compassion, I want for them to hear the truth.”

“It just seems like the authorities don’t want that to happen,” Johnson said.

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  • This is crazy!!! This is probably just the police giving an excuse for him not to preach the Gospel. I say the Gospel truth *should* scare people. It is the fear of God and the fear of their own ill-fated destiny (ie. Hell) that drives them to the Savior. If they don’t fear God, they can’t and won’t be saved. Stephen’s a good brother in Christ, he’s a friend, I’m praying that God will help him through this and that the people in his hometown that he loves will somehow hear the Gospel. Keep going brother 🙂

  • Sounds like Mr. Johnson is facing an age old problem. It’s the same one Peter and John faced when preaching the Word in Jerusalem in the Book of Acts in chapter 4. Stephen in Chapter 6 and 7 and throughout the Apostle Paul’s entire ministry. This is not new. The world will never embrace the preaching of the gospel. But rest assured sir, it’s not the Word “hell” they hate, but rather “Who” you represent. Men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil. You, just like Paul when his Roman rights were violated and he demanded his rights as a Roman citizen, have the right to demand your rights as an American citizen. Fight on Mr. Johnson and may God bless your efforts to reach the people of your hometown with the Gospel!

  • Emmanuel

    Let us not be intimidated by Gospel Hating Sinners! Not only is it our Constitutional Right but also our Great Responsibility B4 God. I wonder how is it that the idea of “Hell” being a curse word came 2 b? Anyways, may we continue going forth in the Lord & teaching His Ways, no matter what the Atheists, Abortionists, & LGBT (as well as all other sinners) think of it. They all need to know that it’s not what we feel like saying to them, but it’s what we’ve been told to do for them, to warn them of hell & sin. Amen!