Street Preachers Wins Over City Ordinance in Court of Appeals

A street preacher has emerged victorious in his battle against a Maryville ordinance requiring he and fellow proselytizers apply for a permit to spread their message, reports the News Sentinel.
In an opinion released late Tuesday, the Tennessee Court of Appeals struck down as unconstitutional a Maryville ordinance that makes it “unlawful for any club, organization or similar group to hold any meeting, parade, demonstration or exhibition on public streets without some responsible representative first securing a permit.”
“We fully acknowledge Maryville’s legitimate interest in preserving order and safety on its streets,” the court opined in a decision delivered by Appellate Judge D. Michael Swiney. “Nothing in this opinion diminishes the right of municipalities to protect people on roadways. However, the particular measure at issue in this case fails to pass constitutional muster as it is vague, overly broad and affords too much discretion to the officials charged with issuing permits.”
The case began in November 2008 when street preacher Wallace Scott Langford, his adult stepson and his stepson’s friend “were screaming and shouting at passing motorists” their gospel message at one of Maryville’s busiest intersections — U.S. Highway 321 and Broadway, the opinion stated.
A video showed the trio “were holding signs and that, at times, the two adults other than (Langford) were passing back and forth through the crosswalk to and from the median,” the opinion noted. Langford was positioned at the Maryville Municipal Building at the same intersection.
Maryville Police Department officers asked the trio to leave, but they refused. Langford was then cited for failing to secure a permit to demonstrate. Langford was ultimately convicted, and attorney William Gribble appealed on his behalf.
Maryville attorneys argued it wasn’t the preaching that was an issue but the dangerousness of doing so at one of the city’s busiest intersections and contended the ordinance requiring a permit was constitutionally sound.
In its ruling, the appellate court agreed the ordinance and the enforcement of it was not targeted at street preaching. However, the court opined the ordinance cast too wide a net to pass constitutional muster.

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