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NJ town: Permit required to exercise free speech

Christian told he could not distribute literature without permit; ADF attorneys ask court to halt policy

CAMDEN, N.J. — Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund have filed suit in federal court on behalf of a New Jersey Christian man told he could not distribute literature on a public sidewalk without a permit.  ADF attorneys also filed a motion Tuesday asking the court to halt the permit scheme while the man pursues his case against the city of Wildwood.

"Christians shouldn’t be discriminated against for expressing their beliefs," said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Joel Oster.  "Officials cannot enact laws that require citizens to obtain a permit in order to exercise their First Amendment rights.  Free speech does not have a price tag."

On June 6, 2008, Eric Wollod, a professing Christian, began to peacefully distribute religious literature on a public sidewalk in the town of Wildwood.  A police officer approached Wollod and said that he could not continue his activities unless he obtained a permit.  Although the officer admitted that the sidewalk was public property, Wollod complied with the officer’s request and left the area.

Three to four days later, Wollod contacted the office of Wildwood Mayor Ernest Troiano, Jr., by phone.  A city official told Wollod that a city ordinance permits literature distribution in only five areas of the area’s boardwalk.  The official further noted that, to use the boardwalk, Wollod would be required to first submit a detailed letter to the city in order to obtain the permit.

Attorney Michael P. Laffey of the Messina Law Firm is serving as local counsel on the case.

"Mr. Wollod broke no laws when he chose to peacefully express his beliefs in public," said Laffey.  "City officials cannot be permitted to enforce an ordinance for the purpose of silencing religious speech."

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.