On October 26, 2011, the city of New Orleans criminalized religious expression on Bourbon Street.
Subsequently, in May of this year, a preacher from Vieux Carre Assembly of God Church was told by police that he could not continue discussing religion on Bourbon Street, even though he had been preaching there for the past 30 years every Tuesday and Friday evening.
The new rules were quietly put in place when Mayor Mitch Landrieu approved a ban on loitering or congregating “for the purpose of disseminating any social, political, or religious message between the hours of sunset and sunrise.” Individuals convicted of violating this ban can be imprisoned for up to six months.
Six months in prison, for speech?
This is not simply a Mayor suspending constitutional rights but also punishing anyone who tries to live out those rights. In other words, in a city where you can show everything, the new rule is you can show everything but your faith.
Moreover, it’s not up to the government to decide which topics we can and cannot discuss. The First amendment protects an individual’s freedom of speech. Jurisprudence supports this, tradition supports it, and the history of New Orleans supports it.
Just think about these things as you look at the landscape in and around the Big Easy. It’s a city that is literally full of chapels, cathedrals, religious statues and ornaments, and even an NFL team named the Saints.
Moreover, New Orleans and the state of Louisiana are so rich with religious overtones that the city sits in a parish rather than a county. (New Orleans is located in Orleans Parish.)
Yet, since the ban went into effect, several people have been arrested or threatened with arrest for communicating a religious message on Bourbon Street. Fearing arrest, the pastor has stopped going to Bourbon Street to discuss his faith.
When you consider that the ban on sharing a “religious message” covers the hours between sunset and sunrise, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the darkness is being protected. And it really is a shame for the Mayor to go to all this trouble, to pass bans on speech and rabidly enforce them, all to be sure the darkness is dark indeed.
The freedom to show everything on Bourbon Street ought to apply to preachers who want to show light as well.