Why are street preachers allowed to break the rules?

I have loved Bele Chere for years but my enjoyment has increasingly been destroyed by the overwhelming presence of the street preachers throughout the festival. In one circuit of the festival I passed four separate groups loudly proclaiming their religious beliefs with the use of microphones.

Bele Chere organizers have been quoted as saying they can do nothing about this because the law grants these people the right to free speech. What about the rights of the street entertainers who are forbidden to perform during Bele Chere without a permit? They are removed without hesitation. When the street preachers stand above the crowd on boxes, use microphones, sometimes sing — how is this not a performance? Even though city noise ordinances are lifted for the duration of the festival, according to the festival policy, “Amplification is allowed by performer permit only.” (Read the full policy at http://avl.mx/iv.) What is the legal justification for applying this rule to everyone except the street preachers?

There is also a statement in the festival policies giving organizers the right to remove anyone if they “deem the content of your performance to be in any way offensive to any of our festivalgoers.” The reaction on the street shows that the message booming through Bele Chere, much of which insists that most of us will burn in hell, is offensive to many people. But it seems that the people saying these inflammatory things are exempt not only from the rules for street performers, but also from the regulations relating to offensive content.

Bele Chere provides space for any religious or political group to have a booth where people can express their beliefs. Why is one group allowed to break all the rules and, by so doing, create a dominating and, to many, offensive, atmosphere throughout the festival?

— Terry Wyszynski
Asheville

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6 thoughts on “Why are street preachers allowed to break the rules?

  1. john

    I also find the street preachers annoying and offensive….if I stand there and listen to them. So I don’t (duh!). And last time I checked, no one forced me to attend Belle Chere.

    I also find some of the music annoying and offensive, and the way some people are dressed and behave. Difference is, we have this thing called Amendment 1 to the Constitution of the USA. It protects freedom of speech and religious participation and expression. You can call the street preachers ‘performers’ or not–it doesn’t matter. Religious freedom trumps your (and my) annoyance. I like it that way. I actually like the street preachers being at Belle Chere. Aren’t we a tolerant and diverse city? That also includes people with whom I may disagree. Here’s a suggestion: Ignore the preachers and continue on your merry way. We are adults and we get to do that! It’s so loud and crowded at Belle Chere that in a minute, the preachers are old news.

    • bill smith

      So if i show up in front of your house (on a public sidewalk) with a megaphone screaming about worshiping allah, you’d be cool with that?

  2. normanplombe

    AMEN! I think we all need a refresher course in freedom of religion….It’s freedom FROM religion that the founders established.

    • travelah

      Not quite. The Founders established a right to be free of a state mandated sect. It was a reaction to the distaste of the Church of England structure that many colonists escaped from.

  3. bsummers

    I also find the street preachers annoying and offensive….if I stand there and listen to them. So I don’t (duh!).

    What about those of us who can’t just move along? I had to go through an application process, pay lots of money, and work my butt off to set up a craft booth at Bele Chere. And the spot they assigned me was the only spot I could set up in. Is it just fine with you that I have to stand there & watch these self-flagellates drive my customers away?

    There was a magician set up across from me for a while actually entertaining the crowd, but the cops ran him off because he didn’t have permission from the owner of the (closed) shop he was set up in front of. If he had created some phony “magic is my religion” rap, like these “hate is my religion” preachers, would he have been allowed to stay?

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