ENGLEWOOD, N.J. — A Christian in New Jersey who was ticketed last year for posting a sign on his truck that cited Scripture states that the prosecutor who is handling the case has refused to drop the charge because of the events in New York where protesters have questioned the judgment of police.
“The prosecutor stated that he was not going to drop the case because he wanted to respect the authority of police,” Luis Zapata, whose defense attorney spoke with the prosecution last week, told Christian News Network on Wednesday. “Especially with the events with the police officers in New York City—the protests and the negative view of the officers—he was going to stand by the officer.”
As previously reported, for nearly the past two years up until last August, Zapata, a Columbian-born Christian who lives just outside the town of Englewood, has posted Scripture and other messages on his vehicle as a means to witness to the public about Christ.
“Two years ago, the Lord said to me, ‘Start praying. Go out into the streets and go preach the gospel. Put signs on your car. Tell everybody that I’m coming soon,'” he recalled.
So he did. Among other locations, Zapata joined area Christians in preaching the gospel at Metropolitan Medical Associates, one of the largest abortion facilities in the state, to help saves lives and reach abortion-minded mothers. He also created Scripture-based signs, which he affixed to his truck and drove through a number of cities without issue—until last summer.
Zapata and his co-laborers for Christ state that for the past two years they have been met with regular opposition from the Englewood Police Department for their outreach outside of the abortion facility, being threatened them with tickets and arrest for preaching on the public sidewalk, parking their car at the library across the street, or other alleged infractions.
“I feel that the city of Englewood got together with the abortion mill to try to drive us out of there by giving us petty citations,” he said.
Last August, the sign on Zapata’s truck became the latest source of contention. According to Zapata, Englewood police officer Mark Van Wormer approached him as he was exiting his truck, and demanded that he removed his signs, which quoted John 8:24 and Numbers 32:23. He 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 told Christian News Network last year following the incident. “I said, ‘It’s screwed into the truck.’ And he said, ‘I don’t care. You have to take it down.’”
One of the men with Zapata then called an attorney, 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, Van Wormer returned with another officer and ordered him to provide his license and registration as he proceeded to write a ticket, threatening to write a second ticket if he sees the vehicle again.
So, the men left and contacted their attorney for further assistance. Zapata stated that Van 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.”
But Zapata does not believe that his sign constitutes advertising. His attorney sought to have the case dropped, but last week was advised that the matter would move forward in court as the prosecutor did not wish to second-guess the police because of the criticism that they have been receiving lately over the Ferguson and New York City matters.
Zapata said that he will fight for his rights no matter how long it takes as he believes that it is important that the word of God is not labeled as being “advertising.”
“What it’s going to come down to is, is the word of God advertisement or is it free speech?” he explained. “If they conclude that the word of God is advertisement, it is going to set the stage for even pastors and their local congregations to not be allowed to put up any religious symbols or any Bible verses [because] they will be considered advertisement, and they will have to charge money for that. Or, towns and cities will pass an ordinance against advertisement and they will be restricted from putting crosses, signs and Bible verses up.”
Alexander Roman, who ministers with Zapata regularly, told Christian News Network that he believes hostility toward Christianity is beginning to mirror the days of the apostles when civil leaders used the law in an attempt to silence the proclamation of gospel.
“There’s an anti-Christian sentiment that continues to grow on a daily basis that mocks and ridicules Christ,” he said. “We’re heading toward the times of the Book of Acts, where if you preach, you’ll be persecuted.”
“It’s coming to where people hate God so much that they want to silence his people; they want to silence His word. And if they make the word of God an advertisement, [it will have negative consequences for all Christians],” Roman continued. “But regardless of what label they give it, heaven and earth will pass away, but His word will never pass away.”