Louisiana Court Affirms Christian Protester's Free Speech Rights

Affiliate: ACLU of Louisiana
January 29, 2007 12:00 am

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ACLU of Louisiana Lawsuit Forces Repeal of Illegal Natchitoches Permit Laws

NATCHITOCHES, LA – The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana today announced a federal court’s decision in its free speech lawsuit on behalf of Christian protester Edwin Crayton, whose rights were violated by Natchitoches’ unconstitutional permit requirements.

In October of 2006, Crayton peacefully picketed for about 40 minutes on a public sidewalk in Natchitoches with a sign that said: “Christians: Wal-Mart Supports Gay Lifestyles And Marriage. Don’t Shop There.” He was then approached by a Natchitoches police officer who refused to allow him to continue protesting without obtaining a permit. Despite the passage of several weeks after application for a permit, the mayor failed to approve Crayton’s request, which resulted in the ACLU of Louisiana lawsuit.

“We celebrate this victory for free speech and applaud the wise decision of Natchitoches to repeal these ordinances, which were repugnant to the Constitution to every person in the city and specifically to Mr. Crayton,” said Joe Cook, Executive Director, ACLU of Louisiana. “The City Council knew or should have known better than to put such a law on the books in the first place that effectively stifled free expression in public places.”

In November of 2006, the court issued a preliminary order that prevented the city from requiring Crayton to obtain a permit before protesting. Subsequently, the city repealed the offending ordinances, and agreed to an order declaring them unconstitutional. Additionally, Crayton was awarded one dollar in nominal damages, which served as a symbolic acknowledgement of the harm done to him.

“Mr. Crayton brought this lawsuit to vindicate his right to be heard on a matter of great religious significance to him,” said Katie Schwartzmann, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Louisiana. “He was never concerned about recovering money from the city. He just wanted the unconstitutional laws off of the books, and for the city to learn that it is unacceptable to interfere with someone’s constitutional rights.”

ACLU cooperating attorney Jane Johnson and Schwartzmann served as counsel for Crayton.

The court’s order is online at: www.laaclu.org/PDF_documents/Crayton_Finaldecree.pdf

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