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Court tosses Fla. statute banning Bible distribution on public sidewalk

ADF attorneys represent Gideons International member threatened with arrest
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MIAMI — A federal court Wednesday ruled in favor of attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund and permanently struck down sections of a state statute used to bar a member of Gideons International from distributing Bibles on a public sidewalk.  The court determined that the statute under which Thomas Gray was threatened with arrest was “constitutionally vague” in violation of the 14th Amendment.

“Christians shouldn’t be penalized for expressing their beliefs,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel David Cortman.  “Arresting or threatening to arrest Christians simply because they choose to exercise their First Amendment rights in a public place is unconstitutional.  The court was right in its assessment that the particular law used against these members of the Gideons does not pass constitutional muster.”

On Jan. 19, 2007, Gray and other members of the Gideons Key Largo Camp began distributing Bibles on a public sidewalk outside Key Largo School.  Members notified school officials and the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office of their plans in advance.  Police later arrested two of the members.  Fearing arrest, Gray left the area and has not returned.  ADF attorneys later filed suit on behalf of Gray.

In his order, U.S. District Court Judge K. Michael Moore explained that the statute used against Gray “is unconstitutionally vague because it authorizes and even encourages arbitrary enforcement.”

In November, the court granted a motion made by ADF attorneys for a preliminary injunction in the case, ensuring that the state statute would not be enforced until the case was resolved and indicating that Gray had a likelihood of success in the case.

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.