USA: STREET PREACHER CLAIMS GOVERNMENT HARASSMENT – Lawsuit explains Houston police keep arresting him over Gospel message
Posted by African Press International on May 27, 2013
But a legal case being brought against authorities in Houston, Texas, suggests there’s another way to shut up a Christian: Arrest him.
The case is being brought by the Thomas More Law Center on behalf of David Allen.
The organization explained that since May of 2011, there have been three separate incidents where Allen, a Christian street preacher in Houston, was arrested, searched, jailed and denied his constitutional rights to free speech and free exercise of religion.
However, there never has been a conviction on any charge.
Erin Mersino is the Thomas More Law Center attorney handling the project, and she is being helped by Texas attorneys Joseph R. Gutheinz of Friendship, Texas, and Jerad Wayne Najvar of Houston.
Named as defendants are the city of Houston, its police chief and several officers.
The center said Allen’s three arrests happened while he was preaching the Gospel message against the sins of abortion, homosexuality and adultery on public sidewalks.
His preaching includes donning a wool prayer shawl called a “Tallit” and sounding a ram’s horn known as a “shofar.”
“This case is primarily about the right of a Christian preacher, exercising his rights to free speech on the public sidewalks of Houston, to condemn what he believes are sins of our society. The Supreme Court has held that public sidewalks are traditional public forums where speech cannot be restricted based on content. So, as long as Mr. Allen is not violating any constitutionally valid laws, the police cannot arrest him or otherwise interfere with his right to free speech just because they don’t like his message or the way he is expressing it,” said Richard Thompson, president of the TMLC.
The first arrest was in May 2011 while he was praying on a public sidewalk in front of the local Planned Parenthood facility. He was handcuffed and imprisoned in the back of a patrol car for nearly an hour in “suffocating heat.”
When he was brought out of the vehicle he collapsed and was rushed to a hospital for treatment.
The second arrested was that October, and it was dismissed for lack of evidence.
January 2012 saw the third arrest, when Allen was jailed for most of a day before his wife was able to post bond. He was charged with failing to obey an order and having a “staff” – his shofar.
Police failed to appear at court so it, too, was dismissed.
The case cites the repeated violations of Allen’s First Amendment and Fourth Amendment rights.
“The city and its highest ranking officials … in conjunction, agreement and cooperation with police officers and officials, worked together, acted with reckless and callous indifference to plaintiff’s constitutional rights, and in fact did jointly engage in conduct that deprived plaintiff of his fundamental constitutional rights,” said the complaint.
“Plaintiff seeks a declaration that defendants violated his clearly established constitutional rights as set forth … a preliminary and permanent injunction enjoining the enforcement of defendants’ unconstitutional acts, policies, practices, customs and/or procedures as set forth in this complaint; and a judgment awarding nominal, compensatory, and punitive damages … for the harm caused to plaintiff by the conduct of the defendant.”