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ADF tackles fishy ‘expression zones,’ hooks free speech win at Salmon Fest

Judge orders Washington town to stop enforcing problematic ordinance against man, may now freely hand out tracts while case moves forward
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SEATTLE — A federal judge ordered the city of Issaquah on Thursday to allow a local small construction company owner to freely hand out Christian literature in public areas at this year’s annual Salmon Days Festival held October 1 and 2. Alliance Defense Fund attorneys filed a lawsuit last month after Paul Ascherl was threatened with arrest at last year’s event by police if he did not restrict his handing out of tracts to two isolated “expression areas” located far away from any event traffic.

“Christians shouldn’t be threatened with arrest and quarantined in isolated ‘expression areas’ when they want to share their beliefs,” said ADF Senior Counsel Nate Kellum. “The federal judge did the right thing by halting the enforcement of a city ordinance that effectively censors anyone who wishes to express his or her beliefs through the distribution of literature. That violates the constitutionally protected right to free speech in public areas at a free event that’s open to everyone.”

Last October, Ascherl and his friends took to the public sidewalks and streets at the Salmon Days Festival in downtown Issaquah and shared their faith by peacefully handing out tracts and engaging in conversation with willing passersby. Within minutes, Ascherl was approached by a festival official who ordered him to stop handing out literature. Ascherl explained that he was well within his constitutionally protected rights, but the official simply repeated her demand to cease handing out tracts. When Ascherl politely refused, she tracked down the police.

After much discussion and back-peddling, the officers ordered Ascherl and his friends to stop handing out tracts. Citing Issaquah City Code § 5.40.040, which prohibits all literature distribution at the Salmon Days Festival, except for two isolated “expression areas”--as well as booth areas that Ascherl was not even eligible to access.

After visiting both designated areas, Ascherl and his friends discovered that virtually no traffic from the event passed through them, so they decided to leave the festival. The order issued Thursday grants Ascherl’s motion for preliminary injunction, keeping the city from restricting his distribution of tracts to the two remote locations at this year’s festival, which begins next week.

Nathan Manni of Oak Harbor, one of nearly 2,100 attorneys in the ADF alliance, is serving as local counsel in Ascherl v. City of Issaquah, filed with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.

  • Pronunciation guide: Ascherl (ASH’-earl)

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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