ENGLEWOOD, N.J. — A New Jersey police officer ticketed a Christian who was sharing the gospel outside of a local abortion facility this weekend after the officer took issue with a sign displayed on his truck that cited two Scriptures.
Luis Zapata says that he has posted Scripture and other messages on his vehicle for nearly two years as a means to witness to the public about Christ.
“Years ago, the Lord put it on my heart to write a verse and put it on the truck,” he told Christian News Network. “I’m concerned about the salvation of souls … It concerns me that in this nation, there are millions and millions of persons thinking they are going to Heaven and the reality is they are not.”
Zapata, a Columbian-born Christian who lives just outside the town of Englewood, drives his vehicle through a number of cities throughout the area and has never had an issue with the display. Every week, he and other Christians preach the gospel at Metropolitan Medical Associates, one of the largest abortion facilities in the state, to help saves lives and reach abortion-minded mothers.
“Because of us being out there, I have testimonies of women not murdering their babies because of the preaching,” Robert Parker, one of the Christians that witnesses at the facility with Zapata, explained. “When I started going there, women were rushing in to murder their baby. But as the years went by, you could see the amount of women that were coming drop drastically.”
But Zapata and his co-laborers for Christ state that the Englewood Police Department regularly harasses them outside of the facility—threatening them with tickets and arrest for preaching on the public sidewalk, parking their car at the library across the street, or any other infraction they might assert.
On Saturday, Englewood police officer Mark Van Wormer approached Zapata as he was exiting his truck, and demanded that he removed his signs, which quoted John 8:24 and Numbers 32:23.
“The policeman came to me right away and he said, ‘Who’s the owner of that car?” Zapata outlined. “He was very aggressive, so I said, ‘It’s my car.’ And he said, ‘Well, you are going to have to take the signs off from here.'”
Wormer than told Zapata that he needed a permit to display the sign on his vehicle and that he would have to take it down.
“I said, ‘Permit for what? … It’s a religious sign,'” Zapata recalled. “I said, ‘It’s screwed into the truck.’ And he said, ‘I don’t care. You have to take it down.'”
Parker then called an attorney on behalf of Zapata, who advised that they move the vehicle for the time being.
“I asked the officer, ‘Can I move the truck a block away from the clinic?’ He said, ‘Move it,'” Zapata explained. “So, I got in the truck a and moved it a block away from the clinic.”
But some time later, Wormer returned with another officer and ordered him to provide his license and registration as he proceeded to write a ticket.
“After he came up to me and gave me the ticket, he said, ‘You have to remove the signs.’ And I said, ‘How? I don’t have any tools [with me] to take it off,'” Zapata recalled. “And he said, ‘You have to get it off. If I drive away and I find the car [again], I’m going to give you another ticket.'”
So, the men left and contacted their attorney for further assistance. Zapata states that Wormer did not cite any law that he was violating until he wrote it on the ticket. The men then looked up the ordinance and discovered that it was under a section entitled “temporary permits for advertising on vehicles.”
“No person shall operate or park on any street any vehicle for the purpose of displaying advertising,” the ordinance reads, “provided, however, that the Council may issue temporary permits for such advertising display on vehicles for public, charitable, benevolent and religious undertakings. The Council may impose limitations and restrictions as may be conducive to the public welfare upon the issuance of temporary permits.”
Zapata disagrees that his sign had anything to do with advertising.
“It wasn’t even my opinion; it was Scriptures,” he said. “And I just express [through the sign] what the Bible says, not even only in Englewood, but also in other towns.”
Zapata said that he finds it ironic that the police will swear on a Bible in court, but then turn against those same verses when on the streets.
“What they told him is the same exact things the Muslims are doing over there in Iraq, where they say, ‘If you’re a Christian, pay a tax or leave,'” Alexander Roman, another one of the Christians that ministers with Zapata, stated. “We deserve to preach and not be harassed by law enforcement. We see it all the time. They come over here and drive by slow, and they look at our license plates to try to identify which vehicle we’re driving in. It’s all intimidation tactics to get us to stop going there.”
Zapata urged other Christians to take a stand for the word of God despite what obstacles they may face.
“[Many Christians] fear the government and they fear to tell people about truth,” he stated. “But I just encourage every born again Christian to get out and express what the Bible says, because Jesus said this: ‘If you deny Me here, I will deny you in Heaven. If you confess My name here, I will confess your name in Heaven.'”