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ADF files federal lawsuit to protect Gideons’ right to distribute Bibles on public sidewalk

ADF to represent Gideons member told by officer he had ‘no right’ to be within 500 feet of school property
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MIAMI, Fla. — Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund filed a federal civil rights lawsuit Friday on behalf of a member of Gideons International threatened with arrest for distributing Bibles on a public sidewalk.  A Monroe County sheriff’s officer told Thomas Gray, along with several other members of the Gideons, that he had “no right” to be within 500 feet of a public school’s property.

“Free speech in America exists even within 500 feet of public school property.  Under the First Amendment, the Gideons have every right to distribute Bibles on a public sidewalk to those who wish to accept them,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel David Cortman. “There is no legal justification for the continued harassment of peaceful members of the community who wish to hand out Christian literature.”

On Jan. 19, Gray, along with other members of the Gideons Key Largo Camp, began distributing Bibles on a public sidewalk outside Key Largo School.  In accordance with Gideons Key Largo Camp policy, they did not step on to school grounds and notified the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office of their plans ahead of time.  School officials were also notified on the day of the distribution.  Both said the activity was permissible.

During the distribution, Gray learned that Gideons Anthony Mirto and Ernest Simpson had been arrested and placed in a patrol car by Monroe County sheriff’s officers.  After arresting Mirto and Simpson, Officer John Perez stated to the two men, “Now you can pray to Jesus all the way to jail.”  After Gray inquired about what the two men would be charged with, Officer Perez responded that Gray would know in 48 hours when he received the report.  He also said the Gideons had ‘no right’ to be within 500 feet of the school’s property.  Out of fear of arrest, Gray has not returned to the public sidewalk, or within 500 feet of school property, to distribute Bibles.

“Officers cannot be permitted to bully law-abiding Christians, or use fear of arrest as a means of silencing them,” Cortman said. “Their actions were fully protected under the First Amendment.”

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.

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David A. Cortman
David A. Cortman
Senior Counsel, Vice President of U.S. Litigation
David A. Cortman serves as senior counsel and vice president of U.S. litigation with Alliance Defending Freedom.