Staff and wire reports
NEW ORLEANS – The ACLU of Louisiana won a temporary restraining order on behalf of a religious group that was cited for being in violation of a city law the prohibits disseminating any social, political or religious message on Bourbon Street between sunset and sunrise.
The suit was filed on behalf of the Raven Ministries, members of whom were arrested on Sept. 14.
The ACLU said that upon their release, the members of Raven Ministries were told by NOPD that if they returned to Bourbon Street, they would be arrested again.
The ACLU says the group doesn’t use hate speech or offensive language in trying to share their message.
"[This] is nothing more than a heavy-handed attempt by the City of New Orleans to selectively regulate the cultural, political and religious tone on Bourbon Street," writes ACLU of Louisiana Senior Staff Attorney Justin Harrison in the complaint. "Because only messages of a social, political or religious perspective are restricted, the section imposes a particularly egregious [First Amendment] restriction."
During the Decadence Festival, a small group of street preachers were arrested during a gay pride festival, perhaps the first people to be booked under a nearly year-old ordinance against aggressive solicitation on Bourbon Street.
Those who crafted the law say it's a public safety measure to help with crowd control and discourage con-artists, but the street preachers believe it's a violation of their free speech rights protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The city has stood behind the ordinance, which applies only to Bourbon Street — not the entire French Quarter.
"You can literally take one step off of Bourbon Street, and you can do what you do," said City Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson, who authored the October 2011 ordinance.
She said it was created in part to make sure people keep moving along the crowded, raunchy strip. The misdemeanor carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $500 fine.