Federal judge asked to allow Gideons scripture distribution
June 25, 2007
An attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund says a policy in one Florida city that bans the distribution of Christian literature makes believers out to be second-class citizens. Now a federal judge has now been asked to review and strike the policy that was used earlier this year to intimidate Christians who were handing out Bibles near a public school.
In January, Thomas Gray, a member of Gideons International, was threatened with arrest if he did not stop distributing Bibles within 500 feet of Key Largo School. Gray was told that he had “no right” to be there. Gray, as well as other Gideons, were on a public sidewalk and had notified authorities of the plans. Prior to the distribution, both school officials and the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office had said the activity was permissible.
But during the distribution, Gray learned that two of his fellow Gideons had been arrested. After being threatened himself with arrest, Gray contacted the Alliance Defense Fund — and as spokesman Jeremy Tedesco says, a federal judge has been asked to review the case. Tedesco says the ruling could have a big impact.
“The First Amendment knows no second-class citizen,” Tedesco notes. “And more importantly, it protects the right of anybody to use the public sidewalk, to be present on a public sidewalk and to be engaged in speech. And the state certainly can’t get away with telling religious people they can’t be there, but permitting others to be there.”
ADF attorneys have asked for the statute, which could ultimately affect every public school in the Sunshine State, to be struck down.
“You’re talking probably thousands of schools,” exclaims Tedesco. “They are literally speech-free zones around each one of those schools [under this statute]. All day, every day, people — including the Gideons — could be hauled off to jail and prosecuted for engaging in protected First Amendment expression. So this statute needs to be stricken as a violation of the First Amendment.”
A decision on the preliminary injunction request could come later this year. The case is Gray v. Kohl.