Friday, July 20, 2007

Liberty Counsel Sues Florida County For Banning Religious Flyers in a Public Park

Liberty Counsel filed a federal lawsuit today against Orange County, Florida for prohibiting a woman from distributing flyers to people in a public park inviting them to an Easter service at her church. Liberty Counsel represents Shirley Snyder in a lawsuit requesting the federal court to enjoin Orange County from violating Snyder's right to freedom of speech and religion so that she can distribute religious literature in the public park.

On April 1, Snyder was at Cypress Grove Park in Orange County inviting people to an Easter service scheduled for the following Sunday at Orlando Baptist Church. She also distributed pocket-size tracts about Jesus Christ. Snyder was told by a county employee who worked in the park that she must stop passing out the literature because it was illegal to do so.

Snyder spoke with the park supervisor, who gave her a copy of the Parks and Recreation Department Rules and Regulations. The supervisor told her not to distribute literature again until she followed the rules and regulations which required permission to distribute literature in public parks. The supervisor told her to submit a copy of the literature along with a written request containing the specific days she wishes to hand out literature and the means of distribution. A committee would review her request and grant or deny permission.

The county's rules violate Snyder's constitutionally protected right to free expression. Of all places, speech in public parks is highly protected, both by history and by the courts.

Synder has traditionally distributed religious literature during the Easter season. In April, 1993, Snyder wanted to distribute literature at the Orlando International Airport on Good Friday, but the airport required a lengthy application process, onerous identification requirements and liability insurance. Liberty Counsel filed suit against the airport and obtained a restraining order against the airport and gained Snyder the right to distribute the literature. The airport changed its policy as a result of the suit.

In America, we do not need permission from a government committee prior to mechanically handing a flyer to a willing recipient in a public park. The government cannot create speech-free zones in public parks. Protecting private religious expressing was the motivating factor behind the First Amendment. The voice of freedom is most at home in public parks.