It was a bright, summer day in June as Barbara Jamison and her friend, Margaret Dunn strolled down the sidewalk toward the entrance to a city park where an event was underway celebrating gay pride.  The festival was free of charge and open to the public. Families with small children and people of all ages and walks of life were making their way toward the park that morning.  In the distance, they could hear the sounds of upbeat music and smell the aromas of grilled food.  The horizon was punctuated with brightly colored balloons and banners. People milled about sporting t-shirts emblazoned with images of rainbows and messages supporting gay pride.  Booths of sponsors and supporters of the event smiled and greeted those who stopped to admire their wares and offered literature and brochures that promoted gay culture and lifestyle.

Barbara and Margaret were looking forward to opportunities to share with others another wonderful cause for celebration – the message of the gospel of Christ.  As they approached the checkpoint booth they smiled and greeted the attendant and extended their arms to receive the purple wrist band.  Before handing them the wrist band, the attendant asked them to open their purses for inspection.  When they did so, they were each told they were not allowed entry to the park.  Why, they asked?   “Religious materials are not permitted,” said the checkpoint attendant.  Both ladies had bibles tucked inside their purses.  Disappointed, they left quietly.

A short while later a local pastor, Byron York and two friends from his church, Josh Jordan and Jack Thompson, entered the park.  After walking about a few minutes, they gathered quietly in a corner of the park away from the bustling crowd, and peacefully bowed their heads in prayer.  No sooner had they begun praying than they heard footsteps rapidly approaching.  Two armed police officers were sprinting toward them accompanied by an event worker. “There they are!”  “Those three men are praying.  Get them out of here!” shouted the attendant. The officers approached and demanded that they leave immediately. “But, why?  Are we doing something wrong?” asked the Pastor.  “Why are we being asked to leave?”  “I will not tell you again,” the officer said.  “Leave now, or I will have to place you all under arrest.”  Not wanting to cause a scene, the Pastor and his friends exited the park.

Jim Cordellini is a decorated veteran. He spends a lot of his time in missionary endeavors, carrying to others the message of hope in Christ.  Jim decided to attend

the festival that day as well seeing it as an excellent opportunity to share his faith.  He donned a t-shirt that read “Jesus Changed My Life.”  After entering the park, he milled about, handed out a few gospel tracts and visited some of the booths where he asked the attendants about their businesses.   He was surprised to see that there were a couple of booths from two local churches in the community there expressing support for the event.  As Jim approached them, he politely asked them about their ministries. 

Within a few minutes, Jim was approached by four armed officers who ordered him to leave the event.  “Why, he asked?  “Have I done anything wrong?  When he asked again, one of the officers barked “that’s it”.  “Turn around and place your hands behind your back. You are under arrest.” 

Jim was arrested for the first time in his life. He was charged with criminal trespass, a class-A misdemeanor.  He was incarcerated and had to call his pregnant wife, Joni to come bail him out of jail.  Normally, a first offender facing such a misdemeanor charge is offered probation and the case is either dismissed or retired.  Not Jim’s.  The Assistant District Attorney in charge of prosecuting his case has advised his attorney that this case will not be dismissed because it is “politically charged.”

The events described above are true.  They recently took place in a city-owned park in Tennessee.  The names have been changed to protect the victims.  Our office has received numerous calls for legal representation from people around the country who experienced similar threats of criminal arrest and actual prosecution for engaging in such peaceful, religious expression in publicly owned parks.  We are committed to offering legal assistance to these individuals.  Freedom of speech is a precious constitutional right, and the First Amendment should never be selectively enforced based on the viewpoint expressed.

Larry L. Crain, Crain Law Group, LLC –

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