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Court reminds Ithaca police: Noise ordinance silencing Christian speech still unconstitutional

ADF attorneys secure win after NY police disregarded court order permitting man to share faith in public forum

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Alliance Defense Fund attorneys received a favorable judgment against the city of Ithaca Thursday after filing suit when city police officers told Jim Deferio that he couldn't share his faith at Ithaca Commons, even after showing the officers a court order prohibiting them from enforcing an unconstitutional "noise" ordinance. 

"Police officers cannot overstep their authority, defy a court order, and illegally suppress Christian speech," said ADF Senior Counsel Nate Kellum.  "An ordinance already declared to be unconstitutional cannot continue to be enforced by city officials, and we are pleased this is recognized by the court."

ADF secured a favorable ruling and court order in 2006 on behalf of Kevin Deegan, essentially reaffirming his free speech rights and striking down an unconstitutional "noise" ordinance after police officers prohibited him from sharing the Gospel in Ithaca Commons.  In August 2008, officers prohibited his friend, Jim Deferio, from speaking in the same location.  The following week, Deferio returned with Deegan, and officers again told them they were in violation of the ordinance.  Deegan produced the court order, but the officers did not heed it, saying it didn't apply to them as new officers on the scene. ADF attorneys filed suit on Deferio's behalf in November 2008.

Ithaca Commons is a traditional public forum bustling with the sounds of recreation, celebration, commerce, demonstration, rallies, music, poetry, speeches, and other expressive activities.  An expert witness in the case stated the ordinance, which outlaws sounds from being heard beyond 25 feet, prohibits everyday sounds, such as those coming from clicking boots, cell phone ringers, children playing, and typical conversations.

ADF-allied attorney Bob Genant served as local counsel in the lawsuit Deferio v. City of Ithaca filed with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York.

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.