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Legal Battles

How the Court Ruling Affected Us This Year

We´ve had an exciting May 2000. It is impossible to capture in words the blessings we had at the Blast 2000 the first weekend in May and the following weeks have been full of activity too. Just before the Blast I got a call from Tom Bailey Jr., the Commercial Appeal reporter that interviewed and wrote an article last year. I gave a lengthy phone interview in which I made it clear that I did not think the City of Memphis (Police Dept.) would interfere with our preaching activities on any of the streets in Memphis including the area approaching the Memphis in May event entrance, which was the only contested area in our lawsuit. Afterwards this headline appeared, "STREET PREACHERS MAY BE OFF-LIMITS AT MIM," subtitled, "Court reverses judge´s ruling."

The article included a picture of Doug Coates and others on 3rd and Beale with this caption, "In May 1999, street preachers were allowed downtown at Beale and Third because of U.S. District Judge Jon Mc Calla´s 1998 ruling that Memphis in May and the City of Memphis no longer should prevent their proselytizing in certain disputed areas." Now if you put this together you would think that all of downtown Memphis (rather than a 1 block contested area) would be free of all evangelists and the heathen could ´party-hardy´ without distractions or rebuke. Even though Nate Kellum (my attorney) and Tom Bailey of the Commercial Appeal contacted the City of Memphis Attorney´s office they wouldn´t utter a word in advance (that we know of) and still have not responded to Nate´s letter. My attorney´s letter told them that we did not consider the court´s reversal to affect me since the City did not appeal and in the earlier ruling they had been prohibited from infringing on my freedom of speech.

The truth of the matter is that the 1998 ruling had nothing to do with street preachers "downtown at Beale and Third." The ruling was over a disputed area, essentially one intersection at Beale and Riverside. What a joke! Beale and 3rd had nothing to do with the disputed area. And, "street preachers were allowed," is another joke in the same sentence. That´s like saying, "Newspapers finally were allowed to be printed because of a 1999 ruling." Street preachers have basically enjoyed the same freedom of expression the newspapers have since the Mayflower.

The headline, "Court reverses judge´s ruling," is a half-truth because only one defendant in the 1998 ruling appealed the ruling. Although the ruling was against the City of Memphis and Memphis in May, the City didn´t appeal. They paid my lawyer $29,000. That was it for Memphis! They had enough. I endorsed the check. Maybe it´s only 1/4th truth because reversing the ruling had nothing to do with whether I could preach in the disputed area. The appeal court didn´t say, "Memphis in May can now control the disputed area." The opinion actually stated, "After careful review of the factual record and the relevant law, we conclude that Memphis in May was not a state actor (rendering moot the constitutional question), and we therefore find it necessary to reverse the judgment of the district court. It follows that Memphis in May is not liable for the plaintiff´s attorney's fees." Big deal. The City of Memphis already paid the bill. But, MIM thought it was great news for them- they thought they had me out. It seemed clear to them that since they are not a state actor they wouldn´t have to protect my ´freedom of expression´. Their problem however is that they never obtain complete control over the disputed area. The City of Memphis retains ultimate control outside the paid event area and the City of Memphis is a state actor. But the City of Memphis would not make a peep until they were forced to because they (I think) hoped we would be intimidated by Memphis in May.

I told Nate and others I didn´t think MIM would try to bother us at the Music Festival but instead would wait until the Barbeque Cooking Contest to push their weight around because that is their corporate sponsors party weekend. That´s what happened! Thursday about ten minutes after I unfurled my banner up came City of Memphis Police Officer Jackson in all his wrath and bluster and ordered me to the sidewalk because I was in the way. I asked him where these instructions came from and he said, "from the top," I think. I asked him if he was willing to go to court again over the issue. He didn´t care and didn´t want to talk about it. He was as hostile as he could be without actually striking me. He ordered me to the sidewalk and I thought I could live with that so I went to the sidewalk,called my attorney and commenced preaching from what turned out to be a superior location. Just across the street was the ticket booth with people four to five deep twenty yards long. But Memphis in May still wanted me out of the disputed area. So, after one message on ´The Party life will end in sorrow and tears´ another City Police officer came up and said I had to leave the disputed area. According to him they were no longer under the injunction like they were last year and I would have to leave. I told him Memphis had not appealed the lawsuit and then I told him the last officer had ordered me to the sidewalk. To make a long story shorter, he spent some time on his radio and a lieutenant arrived. When he got there I told him about the court case and he got on his radio to talk to the City Attorney. After a minute or two he said he would get back to me. After twenty or thirty minutes with no more activity, someone walked from behind me and said as he went by, "Well, I guess you won!" I replied. "Yeah, I guess I did!" Friday evening and night I took my position back in the middle of the disputed intersection of Beale and Riverside. During the ´watch´ the lieutenant came by in his command golf cart and asked how I was doing. I replied, "Just fine, how about you?" as he nodded his head and drove on by.

God gave the victory again and that´s how it turned out in May 2000!