Yesterday, in response to a federal lawsuit filed by Liberty Counsel, Orange County officials agreed to not prohibit Shirley Snyder from distributing religious literature in the public parks. Liberty Counsel filed the lawsuit on July 20, after Snyder was stopped in Cypress Grove Park from passing out tracts about Jesus and a flyer announcing a church service.
A park official filed an affidavit in federal court yesterday stating, "If Shirley Snyder would like to distribute leaflets or other printed matter within Orange County Parks, she may do so within normal park hours of operation without prior approval from Orange County." The affidavit also showed that the Orange County Board of County Commissioners amended the Orange County Parks and Recreation Division's Rules and Regulations yesterday by removing the restrictions against literature distribution in the public parks. The former rules were unconstitutional because they required prior approval of the literature by the county.
The first hearing on the lawsuit is scheduled for August 17 at 9:30 a.m. before Judge John Antoon II at the federal courthouse in Orlando. Although the County has agreed to allow Snyder to distribute literature in the parks in the future, the new policy does not undo the damage caused by the County's original literature ban. An opportunity lost is an opportunity that can never be regained.
The First Amendment guarantees that public parks and sidewalks in America will remain free and open to expression. Orange County should have known better than to ban religious literature from our public parks. Government officials have a responsibility to educate themselves about constitutional rights, so they don't have to learn their civics lessons in court.