Anti-Gay Pastor May Hand Out Christian Lit

     (CN) – The city of Pensacola, Fla., has until July 12 to answer claims that it unlawfully prevented an an evangelical pastor and his congregants from distributing Christian literature at a June 2012 gay pride event.
     Bill Adams, senior pastor of Smyrna Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla., distributed religious-themed calendars and tracts with members of his congregation at the city’s annual Pride Festival in the Park in June 2012.
     The free event in the city’s Seville Square is sponsored by Gay Grassroots of Northwest Florida, and celebrates the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.
     Although Adams gave the material to “anyone who was willing to take it” and tried “not to be obnoxious or annoying about it,” members of the Gay-rights advocacy group told him to stop, since it had a rule that any festival literature-distributors had to reserve a booth and pay a $25 vendor’s fee.
     But Adams, who believed – after consulting with two attorneys – that “my constitutional right allows me on a public street to witness my faith,” continued to pass out his materials until the police were called to the scene.
     One officer, Lt. R. Eagerton, told Adams that, if he did not want to pay the fee, he could relocate to a different sidewalk across the street, about 50 feet away, but if he stayed on the park sidewalk, he could be given a trespass warning and be arrested.
     Fearing arrest, Adams left the scene. But days later he wrote a letter to Pensacola’s mayor, city administrator, city attorney, and Police Chief Chip Simmons to suspend the ongoing ban, to which he said he never received a response.
     The pastor sued the city, Simmons, and Eagerton, alleging violations of his freedom of speech and due process rights, and moved to enjoin them from banning him from distributing religious literature at festivals in Seville Square, including this year’s Pride Festival, which was held this past weekend.
     Senior U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson granted the motion, holding that while the festival organizers control park itself, they do not control the area adjacent thereto – i.e. the sidewalks.
     Adams has also moved for summary judgment of the case.
     In granting the injunctive relief, Vinson wrote, “It is only reasonable to conclude that there will be non-festival-related traffic on the sidewalk in the form of pedestrians simply navigating around the area.
     “To interpret the phrase ‘curbside to curbside’ to include the sidewalks (and extend the festival organizers’ exclusive control over the sidewalks),” he continued, “would mean that the organizers could, if they wanted, erect a barricade and close the sidewalk down completely, which would require pedestrians to walk in the street with vehicle traffic. On the particular facts of this case, I do not agree that ‘curbside to curbside’ encompasses (and permits regulation of) the sidewalks surrounding Seville Square.”
     The court also noted that Adams sought to distribute his literature only to people willing to take it, and that the officials failed to justify an “absolute ban on leafleting, an activity that long has enjoyed the full protection of the First Amendment,” quoting the 1st Circuit’s 1993 decision in Jews for Jesus, Inc. v. Massachusetts Bay Transp. Auth.
     “In sum, I conclude that Adams has demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success on the merits due to the fact that the vendor fee policy encompassing the sidewalks bordering Seville Square, as applied to the particular facts of this case, was excessively applied, substantially broader than necessary, and not narrowly tailored to serve any significant governmental interest,” Vinson wrote. “Because the other relevant factors necessarily weigh in Adams’s favor and counsel for a grant of preliminary injunction, the motion will be granted.”

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