ACLU: Asheville must protect free speech rights of street preachers

The city of Asheville needs to be careful in any attempts to regulate street preachers at the Bele Chere festival, and any rules must apply to all groups, Katie Parker, executive director of the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, says. She adds that the current situation, with vocal showdowns between preachers and their opponents “sounds like it’s already working the way it ought to work.”


Photo by Jerry Nelson

Bele Chere’s status as a city-run festival affects the city’s options, she notes.

“If an outside organization gets an exclusive permit for a festival, they can keep out people who aren’t advocating for their position, but if the city runs it, it’s different,” Parker says. “If they’re trying to keep out certain people based on their viewpoints, that’s unconstitutional.” Though she adds some permitting process is possible “as long as they’re being equal to everyone who wants to express their views.”

The city is currently examining possible restrictions on amplification, time and place after receiving complaints about the street preachers.

As for suggestions on limiting the places street preachers can speak, “I have concerns — always — with ‘free speech zones.’ If they’re putting the preachers in a certain place, especially if the preachers can’t communicate to their intended audience, that’s a First Amendment violation.”

Parker noted that “content neutral regulations on amplification” are possible, “as long as they’re not saying certain people can use megaphones and others can’t. There has to be a way for the preachers to still reach their intended audience, which is the festivalgoers. The city can regulate, but there have to be alternatives. As long as they’re not assaulting or harassing people, they should be allowed to walk around and express themselves, especially if other people are.”

But, Parker says, “our general stance is the more speech the better” and the current situation “sounds like it’s working the way this country is supposed to work: you’ve got people expressing the point of view on one side and people expressing their point of view against them.”

— David Forbes, senior news reporter

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62 thoughts on “ACLU: Asheville must protect free speech rights of street preachers

  1. Betty Cloer Wallace

    The ugliness of these street encounters escalates every year, and the city will find itself dealing with significant violence in the future if it does not clearly address the problems now.

    The city needs to clearly define categories of people, permitted or otherwise, who participate in city-sponsored festivals, including differences, if any, among “religious performance,” “performance art,” “busking,” “extemporaneous visitor performance,” “vendors,” etc.

    While protecting free speech for all people, the city can regulate the use of raised platforms/ladders, amplified sound, performance space, and whether general visitor attendees may use amplified sound or engage in other types of heightened noisemaking.

    It appears that up to this point, the sanctimonious hypocritical street evangelists, allegedly representing an assortment of questionable “ministries,” have a clear advantage in being free to set a contentious tone (bullying) and to control the atmosphere, while city/festival regulations are murky if not prohibitive for everyone else.

    Other street performers respectfully invite an audience, but the street preachers personally harass and browbeat any and all passersby, pointing their fingers directly in people’s faces and calling them sinners, murderers, whores, fornicators, and worse, condemned by a wrathful God to an eternity of fire and brimstone—altogether not a fun-filled family-friendly festival atmosphere, especially for children—and any self-respecting crowd is going to react negatively to such personal taunting and harassment, which is, of course, what the camera-wielding street preachers want.

    I do wonder how the ACLU defines harassment as in the statement by ACLU’s Katie Parker: “As long as they’re not assaulting or harassing people…..”

    In the spirit of “Keep Asheville Weird,” though, I’d like to see a year-round Speakers’ Corner designated somewhere in downtown AVL.

  2. Hope Butterworth

    I believe in free speech, but I think the ACLU is wrong to take this stance regarding street preachers at Bele Chere. These street preachers aren’t interested in having their views heard so much as they are hoping to provoke a fight for their own financial gain.
    After having my children repeatedly approached this year at Bele Chere, I complained to a local police officer. He was so calm, and so professional; just talking to him made me proud to be a citizen of Asheville. He told me that these street preachers are organized to go around the country targeting festivals in towns like ours, where they then attempt to provoke a fight. If the police ask them to leave, they sue the city for not protecting their free speech rights. If they provoke other festival goers and get into a fight, they sue the local police for not protecting them from harm. So, either way, they win. They make their living by engaging in legal battles with the cities they visit. Those are our tax dollars, folks.
    This is not a question of making sure everyone’s views are heard, this is a question of legal gamesmanship. What they are doing, it seems, has nothing to do with faith, or free speech. In this instance, the ACLU is just making it easier for people like this to game the system. Are these the rights we are trying to protect?

  3. vaccinium

    Do these people really think that they are setting an example that would make people want to be like them. If that is being a “Christian”, I am happy to fall into the other catagory.

  4. dpewen

    They have harassed many people including me … they need to go. You are correct Betty, someone in going to get hurt!

  5. In law, hate speech is any speech, gesture or conduct, writing, or display which is forbidden because it may incite violence or prejudicial action against or by a protected individual or group, or because it disparages or intimidates a protected individual or group. The law may identify a protected individual or a protected group by race, gender, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity,[3] or other characteristic.[4] In some countries, a victim of hate speech may seek redress under civil law, criminal law, or both.

  6. Dionysis

    Have areas where these sanctimonious blowhards are perched roped off (not ‘free speech zones’, however), with someone selling megaphones at cost to all who want to ‘debate’ them. Level the playing field.

  7. Dear Mr. Forbes,

    I appreciate your continued coverage of this, but I am supremely disappointed that you did not request that the ACLU cite a SINGLE SOLITARY court case which would defend a position one way or the other. Also, I am extremely disappointed that there was no specific discussion about the actual behavior of any of these people which can be viewed via youtube. Basically, nothing has been contextualized, and the ACLU has been allowed to get off easy by sounding like a bunch of politicians spouting talking points. It’s pretty depressing really to see such impersonal statements from an organization that I thought I should respect by default. What’s even more depressing is the lack of investigative journalism here. If this information was received via email and no questions were allowed to be asked, then perhaps it would be prudent to mention that. As it stands, I see a decided lack of information on all sides about a topic that people are obviously passionate about. Please correct this in the future. You don’t do your publication any justice by putting out content of this calibur. Thank you.

    Dave

  8. Joe Minicozzi

    What if we just banned amplified equipment?
    The speech isn’t the problem, the problem is the noise.
    Is there some sort of constitutional right one has to amplification?

  9. David Forbes

    Dave,

    The opening paragraph of this article includes links to an in-depth 2010 piece I did examining the annual phenomenon of street preachers at Bele Chere, including multiple incidents of confrontation between the preachers and their opponents, as well as the views of a variety of people from around the city on those incidents. The same paragraph also includes a link to footage Xpress gathered this year of the street preachers and another to yesterday’s post, giving some detail on the city looking into regulation. You are welcome to click on any of those easily accessible links if you want more information about this issue.

    As for specific court cases, I cited one (Saia v. New York) regarding amplification, in the original piece on the city looking into regulation. The more recent Ward v. Rock Against Racism is also potentially relevant, though that won’t be certain until the city releases its proposed regulations.

    First Amendment law involves no small number of court cases with no small number of controversies and interpretations. The ACLU representative, agree with her or no, was quickly summing up her organization’s views on a whole range of activity and constitutional law, including some issues (such as “free speech zones”) that are still a matter of legal dispute.

    This post is not the end of Xpress’ coverage on this issue, and as it evolves, we’ll continue to look at the angles, legal ramifications and differing views in-depth.

  10. bill smith

    Don’t these ‘street preachers’ have jobs? Does the government pay their welfare so they can harass the rest of the law abiding public? These ‘men’ just seem like attention-seekers who revel in he confrontations they help create.

  11. Jake

    Katie Parker offers a theoretical perspective that does not square with the reality of Bele Chere. Before she, or anyone else for that matter, offers views on this problem, they really ought to experience it first-hand. I believe our community seeks only to limit the provocations we’ve seen in recent years. It is a serious public safety concern.

  12. Daniel Withrow

    Ms. Magnolia, you say (quoting a Wikipedia article prefaced by a warning that it has “multiple issues,”), “In some countries, a victim of hate speech may seek redress under civil law, criminal law, or both.” While this is true, it’s not true of the United States. A law against hate speech in the United States would undoubtedly run afoul of the first amendment.

    If it’s your goal to outlaw hate speech, I cannot see a path to this goal that doesn’t begin with the repeal of the first amendment.

  13. Thank you Mr. Forbes for putting me in my place. That’s the kind of reporting I like! I will keep my ear to the ground on this one. Keep the information coming. Also, more court cases is always a plus. I work in the legal field so I’m well acquainted with the fact that the scope of an issue is never defined by one case on point. Again, thank you.

    One thing though, how was the information obtained from the ACLU? And to correct my own ambiguity, when I said no specific discussion of the behavior at Bele Chere, I did not mean by you. That is my fault. I was implying by the ACLU. They seem to have made blanket statements based on second-hand accounts without having seen any of the footage from this year. At least that’s how it appears to me.

  14. entopticon

    I’m certainly no expert on the subject, but I don’t see what the big deal is on simply closing down anyone guilty of hate speech. I really don’t see a problem with shutting down any person who is harassing and insulting people on the sidewalk.

    To be honest, I also don’t see any problem with punching the lights out of someone who is assaulting you, which is what those preachers are doing with their insults. I’m sorry, but if you call somebody a harlot and tell them that they are going to burn in hell, a punch in the face is the least of what you deserve.

  15. Kevininthe06

    I propose a rally to take our government and society back from religious extremists who would force Christian sharia law down all our throats if they could. Several big names in the 2012 presidential election have affirmed their belief that God talks to them and those “conversations” would inform their decision making if elected. Even non-evangelicals pander to this need to establish oneself as a true believer. I would like to stand up with the millions of others in this country who respect the ethics of love thy neighbor, though shall not judge, and a who don’t want our beloved country ruled by religious extremists of any stripe. God didn’t get us into this mess and he ain’t getting us out of it. The future is up to us.

  16. uh-oh

    Lousy Disciples need to organize to welcome these verbal assaulters in a non-violent but equally unpleasant way to welcome them to the area.

    The city should require a permit for use of voice amplification equipment at any time. Expand the fee at events.

  17. brebro

    You know I recall a guy in Hendersonville getting arrested for pushing an old lady down in a Cracker Barrel parking lot because she slapped him in the face after he cursed at her. Now, the cop arrested the man, but only ticketed the old lady for the slap. Apparently, even though both slapping and pushing to the ground can be considered assault, the man was also charged with public disorderly conduct, because as the cop explained:

    “In addition to the assault charge, Fairbanks also was charged with public disorderly conduct because, McGaha explained, it is considered a crime in North Carolina to curse someone if it’s deemed likely to cause an aggressive response or some other type of disturbance, “which in this case it did,” McGaha said.”

    Wouldn’t that NC law also apply to these so-called preachers or would it be over-ruled by the Constitution, like other NC laws (such as non-believers not being allowed to hold public office?)

    http://www.blueridgenow.com/article/20110321/ARTICLES/103211010

  18. Jon Elliston

    Does anyone else find it ironic when someone cites a video of a preacher getting hit in the face as a reason said preacher should be silenced for incitement?

    Or how eager those who might normally claim to be free speech advocates veer pretty quickly toward saying someone deserves to be punched in the face for expressing their (admittedly hate-filled) religious views?

    If you really believe in free speech, then you’re going to have to listen to (or just ignore) some hateful idiots from time to time. Doing so is part of the reason you get to express your own views — which, be assured, some other folks would call hateful and like to silence.

  19. Jon Elliston

    And really, all insults are assaults? I’m insulted, but not assaulted, by that reasoning.

  20. Jon Elliston

    You know what I do when someone hollers at me and insults me? I walk away.

    And then I go home to my computer to debate free speech on the Internet.

  21. bill smith

    @Jon-But is it really ‘free speech’? Can anyone wander around asheville with a megaphone yelling out condemnations of others?

    This isn’t about their ‘rights’. It’s about why they have gotten away with it for so long.

  22. @ Jon Elliston…bully for you. Clearly you have a superior set of tolerance genes.

    That said, there are laws against hate speech.

  23. Jon Elliston

    Sometimes I hate how people hate free speech, when said speech is something they don’t like. I’m glad there’s not a law against me saying I hate that.

  24. “Fairbanks also was charged with public disorderly conduct because, McGaha explained, it is considered a crime in North Carolina to curse someone if it’s deemed likely to cause an aggressive response or some other type of disturbance, “which in this case it did,” McGaha said.”,/i>

    So there you have it….using the Bible or religion to “curse or damn someone” someone to hell for their gender, sexual preference, or lifestyle, is against the law in NC.

  25. This needs to be found in the NC statutes, and printed out and shown to officers next year and have the miscreants arrested on the spot.

  26. entopticon

    Ok, I will bite at what appears to be a personal dig there John. Nope, I don’t agree with your assessment. I am not some sort of free speech purist. I don’t “really believe in free speech.” I don’t think you have the right to walk down the street screaming obscenities into little old ladies faces, or to yell “fire” in a theater, and I certainly don’t think that a city is under some absurd moral obligation to grant people license to spout threatening hate speech at innocent passers by. I am also not some sort of purist pacifist, so I don’t see anything wrong with punching someone in the nose for calling you or someone that you care about a “harlot.”

    If a woman chooses to fight back against a bully who calls her a “harlot” and socks him in the nose, I say more power to her. If a black man or woman chooses to fight back against a bully who calls him or her a “nigger” and socks him in the nose, I say more power to him or her as well, if that’s what they felt they had to do to control the situation. There is a time for walking away, but sometimes there is a time for action too. Hate speech is indeed an assault, because it is speech that creates a threatening, unsafe environment, and if it is met with a punch in the nose, so be it.

  27. Libertie

    Walking through Bele Chere this year, I was the subject of unwelcome attention from a blowhard preacher in front of BoA who offered a one-sided dialog on my gender/sexual orientation through a bullhorn. I briefly fantasized about a myriad of fitting misfortunes that might befall my verbal assailant, but state repression never occurred to me. In fact, I see no reason why aggrieved community members should run crying to Big Brother. Do we prefer a society in which the illusion of cultural homogeneity is maintained by law (and, by extension, the violence of the police and prison system)? And let’s not forget that creeping state power won’t be wielded exclusively against an “other.” Today it is the repugnant voice of evangelism being circumscribed but tomorrow the same authoritarian policies will be employed against anti-war activists, anti-racists, environmental advocates, the homeless and you.

  28. Steven

    Of course they have the right to speak, how can any reasonable person deny them that? it is funny how many of my fellow left-libertarians have two sets of rules, One for people they agree with and another for those who hold different thoughts and opinions than we do. Shame,shame,shame!

  29. FISHERFISHERFISHER

    Sad to see free speech leave the streets of Asheville of all places, the town that made protesting cool.

  30. David

    These Jesus freaks are psychotic and should have to apply, be approved and pay for a booth like everyone else at Bele Chere. It is a festival and like when festivals take over a public park, they have the right to restrict access!

  31. Betty Cloer Wallace

    Jon, you’re avoiding or discounting the line between having the right of free speech (to express your views) and not having the right to say absolutely anything because of likely consequences (personal harassment or incitement to violence directed to a specific person or group).

    You do not have the right to yell “fire” in a theatre (unless there is one). You do not have the right to get in someone’s face and yell racial or sexual epithets or call someone a “murderer” in a manner inciting or eliciting a disorderly response.

    You, of course, do have a right to tuck your tail between your legs and walk away when someone verbally accosts you, but you also have the right to walk through a public space without being personally verbally accosted, and the right to expect law enforcement to know the state’s laws regarding harassment and verbal abuse.

    Everyone on this thread is trying to determine and understand the line that street preachers sometimes cross so that confrontations at Bele Chere will not become more dangerous in the future.

    My reference to the bitch-slapping video clearly shows a preacher verbally abusing a woman and inciting a response from her to the point that she slaps him. There is nothing “ironic” about the situation or the use of the video to illustrate my questions, which I asked in this context: I do wonder how the ACLU defines harassment as in the statement by ACLU’s Katie Parker: “As long as they’re not assaulting or harassing people…..”

    Furthermore, I asked, using the video as illustrative context: Is this harassment? Inciting to riot? I still do not have an answer to these questions, but I expect that the City Council (and MtnX) will research and clarify the legalities regarding the line in sorting out the finer points of this continuing issue.

  32. Jon Elliston

    I see what you’re getting at, Betty, but the analogies don’t hold. Bele Chere is not a movie theater. I you shout “fire” at Bele Chere, I can see that there’s no fire and move on and forget about it. If you shout “sinner” etc. at Bele Chere, I can likewise ignore it and move on. No harm, no foul. Being a crazed preacher, standing still and spewing hate, doesn’t incite me to anything. If I hit someone because of what they say, it’s really my fault, not theirs.

  33. I still contend they need to come under the same placement requirements that all other vender/exhibitor have to contend with. If buskers or street entertainers have to pay a fee & are required to stay in a certain location, and have sound limitations, so should the street preachers.

  34. Betty Cloer Wallace

    Jon, I still want to know what ACLU’s Katie Parker meant by her statement: “As long as they’re not assaulting or harassing people…..” My question is what is harassment in North Carolina?

    My clichéd “yelling fire in a theatre” was not meant as an analogy for street preachers; it was meant as an example that people do not have unlimited rights to use their “free speech” to deliberately incite a violent consequence, and now that you make the Bele Chere comparison, I’m not convinced that one has the right of free speech to yell “fire” even in a Bele Chere crowd.

    Perhaps you can walk away from the “crazed preachers” (as do most people), but some people do not, and therein lies the line that needs clarification.

    The woman in the Hendersonville parking lot could also have walked away, but she did not, and the explanation by the police officer was that ”Fairbanks also was charged with public disorderly conduct because, McGaha explained, it is considered a crime in North Carolina to curse someone if it’s deemed likely to cause an aggressive response or some other type of disturbance, “which in this case it did,” McGaha said.”

    Now I want to know if McGaha’s statement was accurate or if he crossed the line in his assessment of that situation.

  35. entopticon

    I’m pretty sure it is harassment to call someone a “fag, ” a “nigger,” a “kike,” or a “harlot.” Unless you are the victimized minority in that case, you are in no position to be insisting how hate speech isn’t a real threat. For many people victimized with hate speech, the most reasonable response will indeed be to walk away. For some people, the right response to that assault might be to take back control and punch the offender in the snot. It is a lily white academic exercise of the nth degree to turn it into a one dimensional candy-coated ivory tower pacifist polemic, demonizing anyone who doesn’t respond the same way. When we start demonizing a women or a gay man for defending themselves against threatening harassment (yes, being called “a harlot” or a “fag” by a stranger on the sidewalk is indeed threatening to many people) out of some misguided intellectual ideal, our priorities are truly out of whack.

  36. 1. It does not violate anyone’s rights to be exposed to stupid Christians in public. Although, the artificial amplification could be considered a nuisance in this case. I don’t like being shouted at in public without amplification.

    2. The solution to offensive speech is more speech, not individual violence or collective force (government constraint). Those who are offended by stupid Christians will be glad that speech is not censored when it is their time to speak.
    ……………………………….

  37. bill smith

    [b]And let’s not forget that creeping state power won’t be wielded exclusively against an “other.”[/b]

    Umm, ‘state power’? This is a city issue. And considering the city ALREADY exercises discretion on who is allowed to wander around town screaming out condemnations (go ahead, try it on a Sunday morning on church street and see how long your ‘rights’ are protected’.

    No one here is asking for state-imposed fascism, ‘liberty’. That characterizations is disingenuous. A lie. People are just asking why the ‘preachers’ get a pass from the city and police on something others are prevented from doing.

    @Jon-These preachers INTENT is to rile people up.That is not free speech, it’s attention-seeking activism from an institution known to perpetuate sodomy.

  38. 3. Yelling “fire” in a crowded theater stands to jeopardize the safety (the rights) of others. If there is indeed a fire, the danger already exists and you have to deal with it. One does not, however, have the right to artificially induce a state of danger where none exists and therefore intentionally place others at risk. This is not a freedom of speech issue; that is, not speech in the sense we are using it here. Here we are talking about the free expression of ideas that may or may not be agreeable. Ideas do not violate rights.
    …………………..

  39. entopticon

    The analogies most certainly do hold Betty. It is not for a straight white man to say whether or not a woman or any LGBT person is legitimate in feeling genuinely threatened by a random stranger on the street shouting at them that they are a “harlot” or a “fag.” It’s not even up for another woman or LGBT person to make that call for another individual. A person hurling that sort of hate speech at innocent passers by opens themselves up to a sock in the nose. If the victim of their harassment chooses to take control of the situation and defend themselves against their harassment, that is their business, and it certainly isn’t the place of someone else to tell them that they weren’t really justified in defending themselves as they saw fit.

  40. entopticon

    Calling someone a “harlot” or a “queer” is not an idea.

  41. entopticon

    It’s interesting… in the past, Thunderpig’s take on personal insults was “don’t write a check you can’t cash” (his words). That’s an adage that essentially means don’t insult someone if you don’t want a sock in the nose. Now he seems to have amended that position with an additional qualifier that goes something like, “unless you are a right-wing extremist preacher shouting hate speech at innocent passers by; because in that special case you shouldn’t expect your insults to have consequences.”

    People take the moral high ground based on detached abstractions, but in reality, it’s clear that for most people, they are simply projecting their own circumstances onto others. Case in point: I wonder if someone followed Thunderpig’s wife or mother down the street, screaming something along the lines of “Burn in hell you f**kpig,” in her face while Thunderpig looked on, would he really just say, “don’t worry honey, sticks and stones can’t hurt you. They are just exercising the beauty of free speech, and anyone who tries to stop them is immoral.” I kind of doubt it. I’m guessing that for most people, they would perceive it as a threat, and step in to stop it, with force if necessary.

  42. brebro

    Our disorderly conduct statute, G.S. 14-288.2(a)(2), provides that for abusive language to constitute disorderly conduct, it must create a public disturbance and, in the words of the statute, be “intended and plainly likely to provoke violent retaliation.”

  43. Libertie

    City government is an extension of state power, ‘Bill.’ Or are you arguing that the city is part of the private sector? It’s certainly run like a corporation, I’ll give you that much.

    And clearly this isn’t just about asking questions. If you’d bothered to read the previous article, you’d have seen: “the city of Asheville is looking into ways to regulate or curb the activity.” Whether or not curtailing free expression is a move towards ‘fascism’ (your word, not mine) it is certainly undesirable in a democratic society.

  44. Betty Cloer Wallace

    Public and private schools nationwide, including Asheville, are now spending millions of dollars on “bullying” and “harassment” workshops for school personnel and students. [Issues include: What is bullying? What is harassment? What laws apply? How does one avoid it? What should one do about it when it occurs? Why is bullying/harassment becoming increasingly rampant in schools? Why is e-bullying and e-harassment increasingly common among young people?]

    When I see children at Bele Chere observing the street preachers yelling obscenities, jabbing fingers in people’s faces, taunting people with assorted epithets, accusing people of murder and assorted other “sinful” things, condemning people to hell just for being who they are, etc., I always wonder what the children are thinking and how the children square these hostile tirades with what they are taught in school about bullying and harassment.

    One differentiation (to clarify the line) that school personnel and students are taught is that “protesting (causes)” and “expressing personal viewpoints” is their protected right, but that personal “bullying” and “harassment” of other individuals or designated groups is not a protected right.

    In a similar vein, public and private employees are made aware of what constitutes a “hostile environment” in a workplace, which is prohibited.

    So now, upon reflection, another question comes to my mind: Why or how are streets different from schools and workplaces in regard to “bullying” and “harassment” and “creating a hostile environment”?

    I also wonder how a parent or other caretaker of children explains to them that, regardless of what they have been taught in school about bullying and harassment, they must, when accosted on the streets at Bele Chere, just walk away and do nothing. What the children learn is that both children and parents are powerless and impotent to protect themselves from bullies, at least on the streets of Asheville, even at a city-sponsored event.

  45. Daniel Withrow

    Ms. Magnolia, while you are correct that there are laws against hate speech, it’s worth noting that these laws are not in the United States, where there is actually a law against enforcing laws against hate speech (i.e., the first amendment). While there are limitations placed on the first amendment’s right of free speech, those limits are few and carefully delineated. Calling people horrible names is not one of those exceptions.

  46. Daniel WIthrow

    Betty, there are several differences between the streets and the schools:

    1) At least until the age of 16, children are required by law to be at school. Nobody is required by law to hang out around the preachers.
    2) Schools have a definite mission related to communication, i.e., education, that can be disrupted. The mission of streets is the flow of traffic. As long as that’s not disrupted, the mission isn’t disrupted.
    3) Schools are populated primarily by children, who are afforded fewer rights and responsibilities by law. Streets are populated primarily by adults, with greater rights and responsibilities.

    I think you might be interested to read the court’s reasoning in restricting the free speech rights of children at schools. Here’s a relevant court case you might like to read about: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/school_law/2011/03/court_wont_reconsider_school_b.html . . . it explains why the courts believe that under particular circumstances hate speech may be banned in schools. If you read it, consider the differences between schools and streets.

  47. I have not had the good fortune to ever attend Bele Chere so I have no idea how many of these annoying men of God might be present on any given day. Obviously this is a sticky situation for the city, not just because of the right to free speech, but also because of freedom of religion. As a nation we have long given a wide latitude to every religious nut bag out there to practice their faith according to their own unique interpretations of the word of God as handed down by word of mouth and multiple printed editions from different editors of two thousand year old writings of a nomadic group of desert dwellers from the Middle East whose understanding of the world was limited at best.

    Maybe the city can’t solve this problem. Maybe the citizens of Asheville and friends of Bele Chere need to take matters into their own hands.

    I remember seeing a movie about the killing of Matthew Shepard. I don’t know if this actually happened in real life, but in the movie at his funeral his friends wore a barrier of angel’s wings to hide that special Baptist minister Fred Phelps’ anti gay protest from the mourners.

    Surely in Asheville there are costume designers who could create such wearable outfits to surround and visually separate these annoying men of God from their intended victims. There is so much room for creativity here. There might even be a committee of Bele Chere itself from the business sector to be sure this moving army of curtains was fully staffed.

    Now what is the city going to do? Is there a dress code at Bele Chere they can enforce? Ha. There is no law that I know of that says you can’t wear a really big hat in a crowded theater.

  48. bill smith

    [i]Calling people horrible names is not one of those exceptions. [/i]

    But doing so with the INTENT of causing a public disturbance might very well be illegal.

  49. bill smith

    [i]There is no law that I know of that says you can’t wear a really big hat in a crowded theater.[/i]

    But there are apparently laws dictating that intending to cause a public disturbance with your ‘speech’ is illegal. The question is, why are they not enforced during belcher.

  50. boatrocker

    Yes, the street preachers are annoying, sanctimonious, full of false piety and give Christians a bad name. Ban them? If it were a Buddhist monk chanting, a Hindu yogi or an American Indian shaman, imagine the public outcry if they were banned from spreading their message. A double standard is still a double standard.

    Maybe those who are offended by the street preachers should consider a different strategy- why not pressure the City of Asheville to make preachers conform to the same guidelines as buskers during Bele Chere? Believe me, both are entertainers and showmen at very best.

    No amplification/megaphones allowed, and they have to remain outside of the actual festival perimeter. Or am I the only one amazed by the glaring double standard of allowing preachers to use bullhorns and giving them prime spots within festival limits?

    Or just wear an “I Love Satan” t-shirt”.

  51. Rick Nantelle

    Free speech is for everyone, even if what they say is something with which you don’t agree.

    HOWEVER, allowing them to use a powered loud speaker and other sound amplifying device may go a tad too far. It projects their voices much further than it normally would be heard. That kind of then borders on noise rather than protected speech.

  52. But there are apparently laws dictating that intending to cause a public disturbance with your ‘speech’ is illegal. The question is, why are they not enforced during belcher.

    Because the only thing the preacher man has to tell a judge is that he is practicing his religious faith, that God has commanded him to spread a few choice words at Belcher.

    There is no point in the city wasting resources on a losing position.

  53. Betty Cloer Wallace

    It must be awfully confusing for children when they are taught in school that bullying and harassment are a bad thing—but at Bele Chere those rules don’t apply. Children see that people can be bullied and harassed by street preachers at Bele Chere with no consequences; hence, children learn that bullying and harassment are acceptable behaviors outside of school.

    Same for adults, including teachers. Bullying, harassment, creating a hostile environment, and stalking are prohibited by assorted laws in the workplace and in most other places, both public and private, but acceptable at Bele Chere and anywhere else the Westboro Baptist Church and their ilk want to bully, harass, and in their own words “to spread God’s hate.” Any other group or individual doing the same thing would be arrested for disorderly conduct, but religious extremist bullies are protected, all too often wrapped in a blanket of “free speech,” however thread-bare.

    As for children of parents who practice many of the fundamentalist religions, how do those children square being taught in school that bullying and harassment is a bad thing, but their church tells them that it is acceptable, even desirable and loving, for their own parents to beat and whip them “because the Bible says so.”

    CNN reported last week that corporal punishment of children is rampant among fundamentalist Christians who advocate that “to spare the rod is to spoil the child” and it is a parent’s duty to “break the will of a child” so that the child will be “submissive and God fearing.” This widespread belief and practice was spotlighted most recently when a fundamentalist parent in California beat his foster child for seven hours trying to “break the will” of the child—and the child died of the beating.

    Hatred and power-mongering masquerading as Christianity has taken over our country, beating our society into submission, affecting our personal lives and public institutions, and women and children are the most vulnerable and impotent because of the strictures of the patriarchal Abrahamic religions upon which many of our current laws are based.

    My hope is that continued discussion and examination of these issues by Mountain Xpress regarding Bele Chere, intended to be a family-friendly celebration of goodwill, will have some effect locally and beyond. Asheville is a good place for the tempest to be stirred and highlighted enough to expose the absurdity of a city council being bullied into submission and allowing false prophets and pseudo “men of God” to destroy our decades-old premier civic festival and to extrapolate their mission “to spread God’s hate” into the rest of our lives, especially into the hearts and minds of our children.

    The Asheville City Council needs our full support and encouragement to take a stand against this madness.

  54. Betty Cloer Wallace

    Death of a child “by a thousand Biblical lashes”:

    http://www.rawstory.com/rawreplay/2011/08/fundamentalist-christians-spanked-daughter-to-death-in-the-name-of-god/

    And here’s a clearinghouse of information about the Pearl’s bestselling how-to manual of Biblical child training, To Train Up a Child, including the 3-part CNN coverage/expose:

    http://whynottrainachild.com/

    Also, an internet search will bring up thousands of websites devoted to stopping this growing madness promoted by fundamentalist churches and roving street preachers nationwide.

  55. bill smith

    [i]If it were a Buddhist monk chanting, a Hindu yogi or an American Indian shaman, imagine the public outcry if they were banned from spreading their message.[/i]

    No, that’s ridiculous and inaccurate. People aren’t complaining because their message is religious, or specifically Christian. [b]The complaint is that they are intentionally harassing people and hiding behind their ‘religion’ to do so[/b] A chanting monk is not equal to a man yelling condemnation aimed at specific people in front of him.

    It is the fact that they hide behind their ‘religion’ that they get away with this at all. Can you imagine the city tolerating someone vocally berating people for how they dress, or what sport team they choose? Going to hell for the Dallas Cowboys? No, these false profits, these pharisees wringing their hands in the street are not practicing ‘free speech’. They are intentionally harassing people, and attempting to cause a public disturbance. Nothing ‘protected’ about that sort of speech at all.

  56. boatrocker

    I think you mean false prophets. Reading is still fundamental. How did you manage to still spell pharisees correctly?

    For the record, anyone, no matter what their belief system who tries to practice their beliefs in public in order to shove it down my throat is a nutcase. Keep your pretty little myths at home.

    Yeah, I’m an agnostic if you can’t guess. Just treat all faiths with either the same degree of respect or the same degree of opression. It doesn’t matter to me which one you choose. Ohm, God Bless, shalom, wassalam al lakum (spelling?), namaste, I don’t want to hear about it in public.

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