BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — Officials at a shopping mall in California have agreed to allow a grandmother to offer gospel tracts to shoppers after initially prohibiting her from “soliciting” without first obtaining a costly permit.
Attorneys with the Sacramento-based Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) had filed suit against the Valley Plaza Mall in Bakersfield in May after attempts to first resolve the matter via written correspondence were unsuccessful.
According to the organization, in August 2018, Debra Moore was socializing with shoppers at the mall and offering tracts with Scripture and information about her church when she was approached by a security guard.
“As a central tenet of her faith, Moore believes she is commanded by God to share the grace and truth she has found in the Scriptures whenever possible with willing listeners and not to keep it to her herself,” the legal complaint reads.
After the security guard advised that she could not “solicit” at the mall, a Group Business Development representative also led her to an office where she was provided with a “specialty leasing retailer” application. The document requested information such as the name of the business, its federal tax identification number, its revenue and store locations.
The application also came with a fee of $250 per day.
“As was readily ascertainable to the mall at the time, Moore is not a retailer or vendor within ordinary usage of those terms,” the legal challenge noted. “Moore is a senior citizen with limited resources and mobility. She cannot afford a $250 fee to share her free literature at the mall.”
Moore consequently discontinued distributing literature at the mall and contacted PJI for assistance. The Christian legal group then sent a letter to Valley Plaza Mall officials, but received a response from an attorney stating, “[W]e strongly disagree with your claim that any actions by employees of Valley Plaza were discriminatory or unconstitutional.”
“In accordance with California law, Valley Plaza does not permit anyone to hand out literature without applying and paying a fee in advance,” the letter read.
It explained that the mall enforces its rule to “promote customer safety” and “ease mall congestion,” and that anyone who desires to distribute literature to patrons must submit an application.
PJI then filed suit last spring, and according to last week’s edition of its regular radio broadcast, Valley Plaza Mall officials have now relented on their requirements.
“[T]hey started to back down, and eventually — just very, very recently, they have completely surrendered on this, and by God’s grace we were able to settle this case in a way that has allowed her to be back at the mall and passing out her gospel tracts,” explained senior attorney Matthew McReynolds, who has been handling the case.
President Brad Dacus applauded the mall for being willing to accommodate Moore and not dragging out the case in the legal system.
“[T]hey came to grasp the error of their ways and they made things right,” he said. “I am just very pleased. I salute them for doing that and allowing this grandma to be able to share the love of Christ [with] people in that shopping mall.”