A conservative legal firm has filed a lawsuit against the city of Hampton, Virginia, over the claim that three police officers violated street preachers' free speech rights when the cops reportedly cited both men and arrested one of the evangelists over a sound violation.
The Rutherford Institute filed the complaint in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia against the city and the officers on behalf of Don Karns and Nathan Magnusen, two preachers who had used voice amplifiers when speaking at the Hampton Bay Days, a local festival.
"The complaint alleges that the noise ordinance that was the basis for the citations and subsequent prosecution of Karns and Magnusen is an unreasonable, vague and over-broad regulation of constitutionally-protected speech and requests that the court strike down the law," reads a statement from the Rutherford Institute.
Karns and Magnusen regularly travel and speak about their faith, using sidewalks and streets as their venues, though the two encountered problems on Sept. 6, 2013, when they used "small amplifiers" to ensure that their voices were heard over the Hampton Bay Days festival noise.
According to the complaint, cops approached, threatened to arrest them and to issue summonses if they didn't cease using the sound amplifiers.
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In the end, neither complied and Karns was reportedly issued a summons, with Magnusen allegedly being arrested for not furnishing an I.D.; Magnusen was also given a summons for using a sound device without a permit, according to the Rutherford Institute.
The charges were eventually dropped, but when Magnusen went back for the 2014 festival, he was again cited before that charge was also dropped.
Despite the charges being thrown out, the Rutherford Institute believes that the restriction on amplification devices is unfounded, and is suing in an effort to defend the street preachers' First Amendment rights.
"The United States has historically stood for unfettered free speech, which is vital to a functioning democracy," John W. Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, said in a statement. "Unfortunately, the tendency on the part of government and law enforcement officials to purge dissent has largely undermined the First Amendment’s safeguards for political free speech."
He later told OneNewsNow that he believes that free speech is the "whole basis of our country" and that he is hoping to see it kept alive. The only way to do that, Whitehead said, is to fight back against perceived constitutional violations.
"The only way you're going to do that is to do what these two guys did when they were stopped: Speak up for your rights and fight it in court," he told the outlet.
The complaint calls for Karns and Magnusen to be granted relief from the "unconstitutional ordinance" that is seen as violating their constitutional rights.
A representative for Hampton told TheBlaze that it is the official policy of the city not to comment on pending litigation.
As TheBlaze previously reported, Karns also found himself in the headlines in 2014 when University of Connecticut anthropology professor James Boster aggressively confronted the evangelist, who was on campus holding a sign that read, "Evolution is a lie."
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