MODESTO, Calif. — After peacefully sharing his faith almost every Saturday night for three years in a public plaza, a Christian man was told by the city of Modesto that he and his friends can no longer enter the plaza on Saturday nights, prompting attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund to file suit against the city Wednesday.
“Christians shouldn’t be discriminated against for expressing their beliefs,” said ADF Litigation Staff Counsel Heather Gebelin Hacker. “Sharing a Christian message is not a valid reason for the city of Modesto to exclude our client from a public area where he clearly should be allowed to exercise his First Amendment rights. In essence, the city is offering religious discrimination for rent. Anyone who cherishes their free speech rights should be concerned when the government seeks to toss those rights aside.”
Kevin Borden has been sharing his faith peacefully with others in Tenth Street Plaza, a public square in the heart of downtown Modesto. After Brenden Theatres, a private business located on the Plaza, complained to the city about Borden’s speech, the city has been allowing Brenden to rent the plaza almost every Saturday evening. Brenden excludes Borden and his associates from the area even though no other events are taking place there and no one else is excluded. City officials and Brenden security guards claim they can arrest Borden and his friends if they enter the plaza on Saturday nights if the theater does not want them there.
Even though city officials have told Borden that permits are not required for free speech in the plaza, he asked about obtaining one because the city granted a use permit to Brenden, which continues to exclude him from the plaza. Officials responded to Borden’s inquiry by telling him that political events or demonstrations are considered “freedom of speech,” but his activities are not.
“Christians have the same First Amendment rights as anyone else in America,” said Hacker. “Government officials cannot single out Christians for discrimination because some people don’t like the content of their message. Mr. Borden’s right to speak in a traditional public forum like Tenth Street Plaza is unquestionably guaranteed by the First Amendment, and renting the plaza to the theater does not excuse the city from its obligations under the Constitution.”
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.