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City of Buffalo agrees to allow Christian speech, literature at Italian Festival

City agrees to preliminary court order while ADF lawsuit continues

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The city of Buffalo has consented to a court order issued Tuesday that prevents officials from kicking out a Christian man from this year’s Italian Festival as they did last year because he was speaking with attendees about his faith.

In 2011, Buffalo police threatened to arrest Gregory Owen for peacefully sharing his faith on public streets and sidewalks during the festival, but the order prevents that from happening at this year’s event, which begins on July 12.

“People of faith shouldn’t be threatened with arrest for peacefully expressing their beliefs,” said Nate Kellum, chief counsel with the Center for Religious Expression and one of more than 2,100 attorneys in the ADF alliance. “The city has done the right thing in allowing Gregory to peacefully speak with willing passers-by and hand out literature this year, just as the Constitution allows.”

“Court precedent in these types of cases is clear: officials can’t toss someone out of a public event simply because they don’t like the views he’s expressing,” said ADF Litigation Staff Counsel Jonathan Scruggs. “Our lawsuit will continue until the city makes needed changes to fully respect the constitutionally protected rights of faith-based speakers. City officials should be commended for taking a great first step in that direction.”

Police had ordered Owen to leave the festival, which was free and open to the public, if he intended to continue handing out Christian literature. As one officer told the man, “If you hand out one more tract, you’re going to jail.”

Owen, together with a friend and members of his family, walked up and down Hertel Avenue during the 2011 Greater Buffalo Italian Heritage Festival to hand out Christian literature and discuss his faith in a non-disruptive manner with willing passers-by. Although the road is a public street in a section of town known as “Little Italy,” police approached Owen and told him to leave under threat of arrest, claiming that his speech violated an agreement with festival organizers.

In truth, the city issued a non-exclusive use permit to festival organizers that does not prohibit members of the public from exercising their free speech rights protected by the First Amendment. The event was free and open to the public, and the street remained at all times a public thoroughfare.

ADF attorneys filed the suit, Owen v. City of Buffalo, with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York on May 10.

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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Jonathan Scruggs
Jonathan Scruggs
Senior Counsel, Vice President of Litigation Strategy & Center for Conscience Initiatives
Jonathan Scruggs serves as senior counsel and vice president of litigation strategy and the Center for Conscience Initiatives with Alliance Defending Freedom.