City looks into regulating street preachers

The presence of street preachers (and people opposing or arguing with them) is an annual fixture at the Bele Chere festival. Now, after complaints, the city of Asheville is looking into ways to regulate or curb the activity.


Goldsboro-based street preacher Tony Denson, speaking during Bele Chere 2010. Asheville resident Jeremy Carter, in the background, brandished a rainbow flag in protest of Denson’s remarks. Photo by Michael Muller

A statement from City Attorney Bob Oast reveals the city is looking into the legalities of such a move.

“The issue of street preachers and other activities with first amendment implications (including distribution of leaflets, etc.) arises every year at Bele Chere,” Oast’s statement reads. “There are many competing interests, including individual rights, and we try hard to balance these interests for all festival attendees, and to ensure that the festival is enjoyable for all.”

The statement continues: “We are looking into the issue of the use of amplification (by entertainers, speakers, and other festival participants) and will make recommendations in time to allow for planning for next year’s festival. Any policy or ordinance would likely apply to other civic festivals, not just Bele Chere.”

However, in response to questions about if the city was looking into restricting time and place or just amplification, Oast replied that “it’s everything. We’re looking into it.”

While the annual confrontations are viewed as spectacle or entertainment by some, others have said it deters them from attending the festival or harms the business of the vendors present. In rare cases, the confrontations can become violent.

The issue, including the use of amplification, involves an array of First Amendment issues the city will have to navigate, something Oast admits when he says “this has extensive free speech ramifications.” The 1948 U.S. Supreme Court ruling Saia v. New York, for example, holds that prohibiting the use of amplification in a public space is unconstitutional, because it establishes a previous restraint on free speech.

— David Forbes, senior news reporter

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31 thoughts on “City looks into regulating street preachers

  1. Simply assign locations to these guys and make them pay and exhibition fee…like all the other vendors. Every venue needs to have boundries. Just because someone is spewing fire and brimstone, doens’t give them special rights above others, and doesn’t mean they should not have to comply with boundries.

  2. Dionysis

    “Simply assign locations to these guys and make them pay and exhibition fee…like all the other vendors”

    Doubtful that would fly, but an argument could be made that they’re “selling” guilt and fear.

  3. Does not matter if they’re actually “selling” anything. They need to have to pay to play. And have to adhere to boundries like everyone else who is there to promote or sell something.

  4. Considering that space is at a premium during a festival devoted to entertainment and stimulating the local economy…something the above person is not a part of. I would be curious to know whether the exhibition areas could be located in the city limits away from all the festival goers.

  5. whogivesafart

    Yeah boundaries like the topless show Sunday? When Asheville comes tumbling down due to the blindness of the community, then what “rights” will you take to battle to pick your phat ham hocks back up with?
    A blind person seems to stumble! boo hoo.

  6. brebro

    Just give them an area–like a kid’s zone or food court or music section–that is specifically for self-righteous proselytizers belligerently yelling out religious condemnation, and then the people attending the festival who would enjoy such a thing can choose to visit that area and those who may for whatever reasons, not feel the need to be the object of unwanted scorn for existing can choose not to stroll through that particular area.

    I think the supreme court said that such “Free Speech Zones” are okay:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_speech_zone

  7. dpewen

    I don’t mind the topless “show” on Sunday, especially after the christian idiots at Bele Chere were putting down women and gay rights!! I would force the christian idiots to make donations to abortion clinics and then they can preach in a designated area!

  8. Maybe some enterprising individual could set up a booth renting out cat o nine tails or other types of whips, and those who so choose could self-flagellate while the “preachers” reigned down their damnations.

  9. Barry Summers

    The accusation from other evangelicals against the worst offending street preachers is that they are doing it based on a flawed interpretation of Matthew 5:10-12:

    “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

    “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

    Point is, before youtube, these guys (funny how they are all guys) would be the ones beating on themselves with the cat-o-nine-tails. They do what they do thinking that if some drunk beats on them for preaching the word of Christ, it will cleanse their own sins. They don’t give a damn about ‘saving’ anyone else.

    These are some sick mofos… The City had better realize that any policy that restricts these guys ‘right’ to provoke violence, it will probably turn even uglier.

  10. Matt

    Next year, I am coming with a microphone and I am going to put it in the ears of the preachers and scream into their ear drums the whole time. I am sick of it and next year it is going down if the city can’t figure it out and completely remove them from the festival, I guarantee I can get a few hundred people to handle business. It is ridiculous that we have to put up with those hateful P.O.S people. I don’t go to their church and shit in the aisle ways.

  11. dpewen

    The city should not be afraid of these idiots and do everything possible to eliminate them from the festival!!!

  12. Betty Cloer Wallace

    @ Barry Summers: …..these guys (funny how they are all guys)…..

    All guys? Funny? Not funny at all to them, not in their misogynistic homophobic patriarchal world.

    Free speech is only for some, their Christian religion says, a masculine pursuit.

    These street preachers are like all other Christian men (just louder), preaching a patriarchal Abrahamic/Christian religion in which women are mere chattel–along with children and other assorted beasts, don’tcha know–who are not supposed to speak in public, lowly submissive worms that they (women and children) are, according to the patriarchal Christian men.

  13. Kay

    Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park, London draws busloads of tourists just to hear the wise to the weird on their soapboxes.
    Perhaps require some registration and then long may they rave. If you don’t like it walk away.

  14. Ashevegasjoe

    Betty,
    I disagree, I saw one man who had his child preaching. The kid of eight or nine was obviously more useful than mere chattel. Still repulsive. I questioned the mans ethics, and he told me he was done talking. Funny, he had plenty to say when he was amplified and didn’t have to bother with listening.

  15. D

    Matthew 6-5: And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites [are]: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

  16. Jobi

    What if citizens made larger signs and banner had fun, playful, non-confrontational sayings on them. Then they could play something fun that was amplified and stand all around the preachers, essentially blocking them out. It would have to distract or block them in some way but not add to the confrontation as that is exactly what they want.

    Also, there have been lots of talk of Flashmobs in the news lately… Just sayin’.

  17. jeffsguy

    The key to this whole “free speech” issue is that it is a FREE City sponsored event. One simple solution is to charge a dollar a head and control entrance. Who wouldn’t pay a dollar to get rid of these haters. The other is to hand the festival off to a non-profit. That is why there are no preachers hating you at LAAF and Downtown After 5; these are sponsored by non-profits. I had to work the entire Festival and these locusts were everywhere. On the other hand, Silver Girl got lots on money from me. She’s my hero.

  18. I am also in favor and putting them all in the same place. Watching the lot of them discover how to give others the floor to speak in turn would be a good exercise in basic manners for them all.

  19. Angela

    We are ok about going topless but not about street preachers?????? Asheville has become a place that is not where I want to tell people this is where Im from……

  20. Daniel Withrow

    “Hate speech, not free speech”? That’s not how it works: hate speech IS free speech and is constitutionally protected. If you don’t believe in free speech for the haters, you don’t believe in free speech.

    And that’s precisely the point. Our system–allowing everyone the freedome to express their opinion, however odious, hateful, or downright insane, is messy and irritating and raucous. And it’s much better than allowing the Powers that Be to decide what speech is too odious to be expressed.

    Consider that without the first amendment, it’d probably be our state legislature determining which opinions may be expressed freely. That’s not something I’m okay with. Are you?

    Solutions like “free speech zones” are attempts to do an end-run around freedom of expression. Let’s not. Let’s put up with the haters as the cost of being able to have a free airing of all ideas.

  21. Jerome

    Believe it or not, most Christians (myself included) are extremely repulsed with these guys. We look at them as either extremely misguided Christians or as hateful bigots who simply use Christianity as an excuse to be cruel to others.

    And Angela, people have been going around topless for thousands of years. Really, it’s not that shocking and I don’t find the thought of topless women walking around downtown to be exciting/arousing.

  22. mwearl

    They shouldn’t have to pay anything to be there and speak their minds. Both freedom of speech and separation of church and state apply here. However, I think any form of sound amplification should be banned regardless of who’s saying it. Unless you have a designated stage.

  23. How do amplified street preachers differ from non-amplified musical performers? 4 years ago we tried to busk during Bele Chere. The second our instruments were unpacked, APD was on us asking for our permit. We didn’t have one so we packed up and moved on…I get that, it makes sense. I just don’t see how public music can be regulated so strictly, but hate mongers w/ bullhorns are given free reign.

  24. Rick Nantelle

    Many of the posts here support the rights of street preachers in general (and should). To paraphrase one of our Founders: the test of a democracy is not letting someone say what you want to hear but letting him say what you don’t want to hear.

    The problem is amplification.

    I can’t merely stroll away to a distance at which the reach of a natural voice, even a projected voice, would disappear. When it’s modified or amplified by a manmade device, I have to go 10x or more the distance to escape it. That’s kinda unfair to me.

  25. boatrocker

    I hear you, Now You See Them. Your point about amplification has been brought up numerous times in discussions about street preachers but has yet to be addressed by either the APD or the City of Asheville. By leveling the playing field (taking away amplification), how much sway would the street preachers truly have then?

  26. Devin

    It’s not the street preachers that are the problem, it’s the psychos surrounding them. Of course not all of the people around them, but there were a lot of people around them shouting aggressively and with vulgarity. It’s one thing to disagree with something and have an intelligent conversation, it’s another thing to cuss someone out and call them stupid.

  27. Tony D

    Correcton: Denham instead of Denson.

    I wanted to chime in to the discussion. If anyone has heard my preaching at Bele Chere, he or she will notice that I don’t intentionally try to provoke anyone to anger, just to get a crowd furious (I’m not the one preaching in the video that is linked, nor should one judge all the street preachers according to the one seen in the video). I’m just preaching the message of the Bible that everyone is born a sinner, under the wrath of the one true triune and living God; that’s why Jesus said “you must be born again.” Whether one agrees with the message or even how the message is preached is beside the point. What is at stake is freedom–one reason why this nation has become so great. Here’s a challenge: Those who “hate” street preachers, please demonstrate tolerance toward us; for surely we show compassion in bringing a message to you that we believe is the power of God to save you from an eternal hell. I just want to reiterate, that I write this prayerfully, not to purposely upset anyone. Please spare the personal attacks, and let’s reason intelligently.

  28. marC

    Well, it is 2012, and the hate mongers were out in force. No changes from 2011. If I am not protected from such hate spewing, I will not go to Bele Chere. Or if I do, I will come equipped with my own megaphone and message.

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