Noise Ordinance Targets Christian Evangelists, Says Legal Alliance

( [email protected] ) May 17, 2007 02:42 PM EDT

Attorneys from the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) have filed a petition to a U.S. Court of Appeals backing two Christian evangelists in San Francisco who they say have been unlawfully silenced.

The lawyers from the Christian legal group are asking for a full panel of the court for the 9th Circuit to review a lawsuit that was filed against San Francisco city officials, citing that they have wrongfully been stifling Christian free speech rights by unevenly enforcing a local noise ordinance.

“Religious speech is not second-class speech,” said Rick Nelson, an ADF-allied attorney with the American Liberties Institute, in a statement. “San Francisco officials are unevenly applying their city’s ‘noise’ ordinance in order to target and shut down Christian speech, in clear violation of the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment.”

The two affected street evangelists are Lawrence Rosenbaum and Eric Livingston. On Apr. 30, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit ruled in favor of San Francisco officials, explaining that the two Christians’ First Amendment rights had not been infringed upon by upholding the noise ordinance. According to ADF, a 2001 panel had made a contrary decision based on the same evidence.

The biggest complaint in the newly submitted petition is that city officials are not equally enforcing the noise ordinance. Attorneys have expressed that Rosenbaum and Livingston have been receiving stricter restrictions based on their religious message.

One cited incident involved a citation against Livingston while he was evangelizing. At the same time, a group that was 15 feet away, Reckless Records, was using an 80-watt amplifier without a permit. Police refused to cite individuals from that group, however.

“Other groups have used sound amplifiers in these exact same public places with no problem, yet the city continues to target these two ministers for doing the same thing,” added Nelson. “Arresting speakers based on the content of their speech is viewpoint discrimination, pure and simple. We hope that the full 9th Circuit will find, as the 2001 panel did, that the city’s treatment of these two ministers violated their constitutional rights.”

Rosenbaum and Livingston have engaged in street and park evangelism since 1978 with the aid of a sound amplifier. Beginning in 1995, they reported that more than a dozen of their permit applications for sound amplification were denied. Those that were issued, were received with significant restrictions.

Livingston has been arrested several times by San Francisco authorities over complaints from passersby who were offended by his Gospel message, according to ADF.