ICLU Files Suit to Protect Free Speech Rights of Baptist Preacher

On behalf of Pastor John Lewis and the Old Paths Baptist Church, the Indiana Civil Liberties Union has filed suit against the City of Scottsburg to stop city officials’ unconstitutional limitations of the church members’ rights to free speech.

In the suit filed in July in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, the ICLU states Pastor Lewis and members of the church which he heads, the Old Paths Baptist Church, have been repeatedly threatened with arrest and or citation by the Scottsburg Police Department. Members of the church, including Pastor Lewis, periodically demonstrate in Indiana towns concerning various subjects, including pro-life and anti-abortion issues.

Scottsburg police told Pastor Lewis that they are concerned about the possible reaction of listeners who hear plaintiffs’ message, which is delivered on city sidewalks through megaphones providing moderate amplified sounds that are no louder than passing traffic.

“Pastor Lewis and his church members were ordered to stop, not because there was some ordinance they were violating or that the noise rose to the level of disorderly conduct, but because the police were concerned that the persons hearing the message might react against it,” said ICLU Legal Director Ken Falk. “This appears to be a classic case of a "heckler's veto" which is unconstitutional.”

The ICLU has consistently defended the reproductive rights of women in the courts, the General Assembly and the Statehouse. But muzzling a contrary view is not the American way. "Whether we agree with all of the message of Pastor Lewis and his followers is irrelevant," said ICLU executive director Fran Quigley. "The ICLU is dedicated to preserving the rights of religious expression and free speech for all Hoosiers."

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