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Austin Cline

Las Vegas: ACLU Defends Street Preachers

By November 11, 2004

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Religious conservatives commonly - and incorrectly - accuse the ACLU of being anti-Christian and of helping any religious group except Christians. In yet another example of just how ignorant and wrong such claims are, the ACLU is coming to the defense of street preachers in Las Vegas who are being driven off by casino owners

The LA Times reports:

[The American Civil Liberties Union] in recent months has turned a small band of street preachers into unlikely symbols of free speech fighting, sometimes in noisy confrontations with police and casinos, for the preachers' right to spread the gospel on the Las Vegas Strip.
The preachers openly despise the ACLU, which they view as an insufferably liberal institution, albeit one that had lately seemed like their only friend in town. The ACLU doesn't think much of the preachers' condemnations of, well, a lot of people, including "fornicators," Democrats, women who seek abortions and people who have not accepted Christ as their savior. ... But the ACLU forged ahead because, the organization said, a long-percolating dispute between the casinos and the preachers threatened the sanctity of the quintessential American venue for free expression: the sidewalk.

Conflicts between the casinos and people who want to use the sidewalks in front of the casinos to advocate this or that cause have evidently been going on for at least ten years, but with the help of the ACLU an agreement has been hammered out that might make everyone happy or at least satisfied enough to move on to other things.

Because of a street-widening project, sidewalks were moved to casinos' private property and the casinos tried to regulate what could go on there, getting rid of people considered disruptive just as if they were inside the casinos. A court fight led to a ruling against the casinos, but they didn't really stop them. Guards and police acted like they were ignorant of the ruling or like they just didn't care at all.

Griner and fellow preacher Jim Webber began videotaping their encounters with security personnel and police officers. Peck and Allen Lichtenstein, Nevada ACLU's general counsel, became a free-speech SWAT team, descending on the Strip on a moment's notice to make impassioned, impromptu arguments that the preachers could stay confrontations that drew crowds of curious tourists.
The Metropolitan Police Department also acknowledged that it has had a difficult time balancing public rights and property rights. The department had been accused repeatedly of protecting the casinos at the expense of the public, and Sgt. Mark Reddon, a supervisor of officers who patrol the Strip, said some officers had been too aggressive in attempting to evict the preachers and others from sidewalks. But he said the department also must be careful not to let free expression go overboard.

Save this link because it demonstrates an example (one of many, to be fair) of the ACLU not simply going to bat on behalf of Christians, but Christians who despise the ACLU. The next time a conservative evangelical spouts off about how the "ACLU" stands for Anti-Christian Legal Union or something equally moronic, show them this and make it clear that if they continue in a similar manner, they will stop being guilty of ignorance and start being guilty of bearing false witness.

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