Legal victory for Bourbon St. religious group against City of New Orleans

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wwltv.com

Posted on September 21, 2012 at 9:41 PM

Updated Friday, Sep 21 at 10:01 PM

Tania Dall / Eyewitness News
Email: tdall@wwltv.com | Twitter: @taniadall

A legal victory late on Friday for a religious group that spends weekends on Bourbon Street preaching to crowds. A judge granted a temporary restraining order against the City of New Orleans and the NOPD after church members were arrested for aggressive solicitation.

"We've really had no issues whatsoever, we've seen God do some tremendous things and have not even had issues with law enforcement," said Pastor Troy Bohn of Raven Ministries.

Armed with "I love Jesus" pamphlets and the power of prayer, Pastor Bohn and members of his congregation take to Bourbon Street most weekends.

During this year's Southern Decadence festival, religious groups were arrested and charged with aggressive solicitation by the NOPD -- allegedly breaking an ordinance that was passed last fall. On September 14th, Pastor Bohn and Raven Ministries member Kelsey McCauley were also slapped with similar citations.

"Our team is where its been for the last two years, three nights a week, talking to people, sharing the gospel under the red cross. The police approached us and told us we were under arrest," said Pastor Bohn.

Now those alleged law breakers are fighting back by taking the city's aggressive solicitation ordinance to federal and state courts.

"All speech on Bourbon Street between the hours of sunset and sunrise of a social, political or religious nature. Its the religious nature that brought the ordinance to our attention in this case," said ACLU of Louisiana Senior Staff Attorney Justin Harrison.

Harrison says late on Friday a judge approved a temporary restraining order against Mayor Mitch Landrieu, the City of New Orleans and NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas on behalf of McCauley. The next step is a pending lawsuit citing freedom of speech rights.

"I certainly have issues with their argument. I don't think that freedom of speech should trump my right to life, libery and the pursuit of happiness," said Mary Griggs, Director of the Lesbian and Gay Community Center of New Orleans. Griggs says religious groups with bullhorns go against the spirit of Bourbon Street.

"I think that's not appropriate for the space that they're in. If they want to witness about jesus christ there are certainly other appropriate places that they can be," said Griggs.

The City of New Orleans issued this statement on Friday night in response:

"The intent behind the ordinance is not to suppress free of speech. It is a public safety measure to allow the NOPD the ability to ensure the safety of all persons on Bourbon Street while it is a pedestrian mall at night. It is also meant to help alleviate disruptions to visitors, residents and businesses. In doing so, the ordinance imposes specific time, place, and manner restrictions on solicitation and associated conduct in certain limited circumstances."

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