GREENFIELD — The City of Greenfield, Wisconsin has agreed to allow a local pastor and his evangelistic associate to distribute Bibles at its annual Harley-Davidson festival after officers initially threatened them with arrest for their activities.
Pastor David Murray had visited the free public festival last month with a friend, Dan Lawrence, to distribute Scripture to attendees. However, they were soon approached by security and police officers who demanded that they move to another area where there was no pedestrian traffic.
Lawrence then discussed the matter with the captain of the Greenfield Police Department in an attempt to resolve the situation, but was told that the men could not hand out materials inside the event.
Murray and Lawrence were threatened with arrest if they continued to distribute Bibles at the festival, so they ceased their activities and went home.
The men then contacted the nationally-recognized Christian legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) about the matter, who sent a letter to Greenfield officials, demanding that the city amend its ways.
“According to the Supreme Court, oral and written dissemination of religious viewpoints are entitled to the utmost constitutional protection,” the letter read. “[E]xpression in a traditional public forum deserves the highest level of protection, and any infringement of speech activity there must overcome great scrutiny.”
On Friday, Greenfield Police Chief Bradley Wentlandt sent an email to attorneys with ADF, advising that he had informed his department that their actions were improper and that they must not interfere with Murray and Lawrence’s Bible distribution efforts at the public event.
“[P]ersonnel have been advised to allow your client’s activity within the public streets, sidewalks and right of way,” he wrote.
ADF says that it is pleased with the City’s decision, but is disappointed that the situation occurred in the first place.
“No one should be threatened with arrest simply because they choose to exercise their First Amendment freedoms in a public place,” said Legal Counsel Jon Scruggs. “We commend the City for promptly agreeing to respect the constitutionally protected right of this pastor and all Americans to peacefully distribute faith-based literature.”
“The government should not harass and threaten citizens for exercising their constitutionally protected freedoms in public,” added Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot. “The City of Greenfield has rightly understood this, and we will continue to monitor the situation to ensure that this pastor’s freedom to share his faith is respected. The First Amendment specifically protects every American’s freedom of speech and religious expression.”