Free Speech Affirmed for Christians Arrested While Sharing Faith
HAMPTON, N.H., December 1, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) – A federal district court issued an order Wednesday that bars the arbitrary enforcement of a state law against “unreasonable and loud noise” while a lawsuit against the law moves forward. The ordinance was used to arrest two men who were sharing their faith and singing worship songs on a public sidewalk in the Hampton Beach area.
Alliance Defense Fund allied attorneys filed suit last month on behalf of the two men challenging the vague state law.
“The government shouldn’t harass and threaten citizens for simply wanting to exercise their First Amendment rights in public,” said ADF Senior Counsel Joseph Infranco. “The court did the right thing in preventing this law from being enforced against the free speech activities of these men. We hope that this lawsuit will result in a new state statute that affirms the First Amendment rights of all New Hampshire citizens.”
On Aug. 4, 2008, Mark Frost, Jayson Gardner, and Craig Gardner were sharing their faith with pedestrians on Ocean Boulevard in Hampton Beach. Because of the loud music emanating from a nearby rock concert at the beach boardwalk, they rolled up a piece of paper so they could be heard. They were approached by a police officer who informed them that they were in violation of the town noise ordinance, even though they were in an extremely noisy area.
The officer told the men to stay quiet and stop using their paper “megaphone.” The men complied and moved two blocks away to preach without use of the paper “megaphone” and started to sing the Christian song, “He Set Me Free.” The officer reappeared and arrested Frost and Jayson Gardner for being too loud, allegedly asking the men, “Where is your God now? There’s no God behind these walls.” The men were subsequently charged with disorderly conduct under state law, instead of being cited under the town’s noise ordinance. Although the men were acquitted, they have not returned to the area saying that they fear future arrest.
The stipulated injunction issued by the U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire prohibits enforcement of the state law against the free speech of Frost and Gardner “provided any electronically amplified speech activities do not consistently exceed a decibel level of 85 decibels from a distance of 65 feet.” The decibel restriction does not apply to speech that is not “electronically amplified.”