Citizens of Hickory Free to Express Faith in Public
Special Report - October 3, 2008
City officials in Hickory, North Carolina, have pledged to recognize and protect the constitutional rights of citizens to express their religious faith in public after an incident this summer involving the silencing and arrest of two Christian men who were attempting to share their faith at a public festival. The city’s staff attorney made the pledge in a September 9 letter addressed to the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), which had contacted city officials on behalf of the two men, Matthew and Jessie Boyd. According to ADF, the incident began when the Boyds and two colleagues attended the Hickory Alive Festival on June 27, 2008, and began witnessing and distributing religious literature. Festival officials objected to their activities, and the police arrested the Boyds, charging them with “criminal trespassing.” Although the charges against them were eventually dropped, the Boyds contacted ADF to represent them.
In a letter to Hickory officials dated August 27, ADF Legal Counselor Tim Chandler wrote that it is “indisputable” that the Boyds’ actions at the festival were constitutional. He also accused the Hickory Police Department of violating their rights. “The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that ‘oral and written dissemination of …. religious views and doctrines is protected by the First Amendment,’” Chandler noted in the letter. “It is equally indisputable that public streets and sidewalks, like those in the Union Square Common where my clients were speaking, are traditional public forums.” The letter ended with ADF asking city officials to give them “assurances” that “the Boyds and others wishing to peacefully engage in expressive activities at Union Square Commons and other traditional public forums in Hickory will be fully protected.”
On September 9, the city’s staff attorney responded in a letter to ADF with assurances that “the City of Hickory recognizes the rights of the Boyds and others to engage in freedom of speech at Union Square and other public forums within the City of Hickory, and will diligently work to ensure those rights are protected.” The city attorney also noted that the “Hickory Police Department recently held a legal update in-service training for all of its officers,” and that “part of this training included a discussion of the Hickory Alive incident and a review of the applicable Constitutional law and the freedoms the law afford to all persons attending such events.”
“Christians shouldn’t be penalized for expressing their beliefs,” said ADF Legal Counsel Tim Chandler in a press release. “It was unconstitutional to charge these men with a crime simply because they chose to share their faith peacefully in public. But now the city of Hickory should be commended for responding so well to respect the First Amendment rights of its citizens.”
Copyright © 2008. North Carolina Family Policy Council. All rights reserved.