Canon City, CO - In response to a demand letter from Liberty Counsel, the Canon City attorney issued a written response stating that its police will not arrest those who engage in constitutionally protected speech on public sidewalks within the city. Additionally, the city's chief of police issued a written warning to his officers and dispatchers stating that "individuals have an absolute right to preach and be in front of businesses as long as they are not blocking the ingress/egress of the building. We will not threaten to arrest them for disorderly conduct over a free speech matter." The police chief's warning to his officers concluded with the following words in all caps for emphasis: "USE EXTREME CAUTION AND DON'T BE DRUG INTO THE POTENTIAL OF A FEDERAL CIVIL ACTION FILED AGAINST YOU, ME AND THE CITY OF CANON CITY."
Liberty Counsel was contacted by Norman Robinovitz and Bill Phillips, two evangelists who have stood on public sidewalks talking to people about their Christian faith and handing out literature over the past seven years. On three evenings in March, after they shared their Christian faith with individuals outside of two local bars, someone called police to investigate these activities. After the third call, the men were threatened with arrest for disorderly conduct. They were told if they continued their activities they were "headed for jail time." At all times Robinovitz and Phillips were peaceful and did not amplify their voices. The complaints were obvious attempts by the bar owners and workers to prevent the evangelists from speaking to the bar patrons.
Liberty Counsel Senior Litigation Counsel David Corry sent a letter to the city of Canon City advising that discussion of one's faith, distributing literature and witnessing on public sidewalks were activities protected by the First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Liberty Counsel demanded assurances that the evangelists would not be arrested for sharing their faith and requested an immediate response.
Peaceful speech on public sidewalks is a protected activity over which opposing hecklers or political correctness have no voice. Extreme caution ought to be exercised by police officers and other government officials when their own ideologies or members of the public pressure them to silence peaceful voices in public places.