GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A Michigan man who preaches outside of abortion facilities and other locations on a regular basis has filed a federal lawsuit as he says that he has been threatened numerous times with arrest by police.
Stephen Nylen of New City Fellowship is challenging Grand Rapids’ noise ordinance, which prohibits “any noise of any kind,” but does not provide an objective standard. He also says that if anyone complains about his speech, he could be charged with breach of the peace if he declines to stop preaching.
“Unfortunately, Mr. Nylen, who regularly engages in religious speech in public forums such as public sidewalks and parks, has been repeatedly warned by city officers that, if someone dislikes his speech [and] complains to authorities about it, then he will be cited under either the noise ordinance or the breach of the peace ordinance if he does not stop speaking,” his attorney, Stephen van Stempvoort, wrote in the complaint.
While some have expressed appreciation for Nylen’s preaching, who turned to Christ while serving in Iraq, others have responded negatively. Nylen is therefore concerned that in addition to breach of the peace, he could also be cited for causing a disturbance if anyone unhappy with the message responds by shouting or honking their car horn.
“Due to the subjective, vague nature of the city’s ordinances, Mr. Nylen has not been able to obtain a clear indication of the line between permitted and not permitted conduct,’’ van Stempvoort contended.
Nylen says that he was ordered to stop speaking nearly a dozen times last year, sometimes being threatened with arrest. As a result, he has not “engaged in religious speech near an abortion clinic within city limits, due to the city’s threats that it would prosecute him for doing so if anyone complained about his speech.’’ However, Nylen has continued preaching elsewhere, such as sidewalks, parks and public festivals.
“Mr. Nylen believes that his faith requires him to bring a message of hope and compassion, and he believes that he has a religious and ethical obligation to speak that message to the issue of abortion,” the complaint reads. “The only way that Mr. Nylen can ensure that he will not be prosecuted under the city’s ordinances is simply ceasing his speech activity altogether, thereby assuring that he will not engender a negative reaction that could trigger his arrest.”
Nylen asserts that Grand Rapids’ noise and breach of the peace ordinances violate his First Amendment rights. He is asking a U.S. district court to grant an injunction against their enforcement.
City officials have yet to respond to the legal challenge.
Nylen has a number of public outreach videos posted to YouTube, including one where he was approached by a woman with a sign reading “witches for Planned Parenthood.”
“I want you to know the love of God that’s found in Christ, ma’am,” he says. “Turn from your sin. … In the cauldron of God’s wrath is where witches will stand, but He can save you [today].”