SEATTLE — Alliance Defense Fund attorneys filed a federal lawsuit Friday against the city of Issaquah on behalf of a local small construction company owner prevented from freely handing out Christian literature in public areas of the annual Salmon Days Festival. Paul Ascherl was threatened by police with arrest if he did not confine his handing out of tracts to two isolated “expression areas” located away from any event traffic.
“Christians shouldn’t be threatened with arrest and censored by being quarantined to isolated ‘expression areas’ when they want to share their beliefs,” said ADF Senior Counsel Nate Kellum. “The city ordinance mandating the zones effectively censors anyone wishing to express his or her beliefs through the distribution of literature. That violates the constitutionally protected right to free speech in public areas at a free event that’s open to everyone.”
Last October, Ascherl and his friends took to the public sidewalks and streets at the Salmon Days Festival in downtown Issaquah and shared their faith by peacefully handing out tracts and engaging in conversation with willing passersby. After several minutes, Ascherl was approached by a plain-clothes festival official who ordered him to stop handing out literature. Ascherl explained that he was well within his constitutionally protected rights, but the official simply repeated her demand to cease handing out tracts. When Ascherl politely refused based on his rights protected by the First Amendment, she told him that she was going to get the police and left.
Within 30 minutes, two uniformed Issaquah police officers approached Ascherl but allowed him to continue distributing literature when Ascherl assured them that he did not and would not harass anyone. After five minutes, the officers returned with the festival official and ordered Ascherl and his friends to stop handing out tracts. Ascherl inquired about any law prohibiting their free speech, and, about 20 minutes later, the officers returned with a copy of Issaquah City Code § 5.40.040, which prohibits all literature distribution at the Salmon Days Festival, except in two isolated “expression areas.”
After visiting both designated areas, Ascherl and his friends discovered that virtually no traffic from the event passed through them, severely diminishing their contact with event attendees. Realizing that it was futile to stay at the zones and out of fear of arrest, Ascherl and his friends left the festival. They wish to continue their activities at this year’s Salmon Days Festival taking place on the first two days of October.
Nathan Manni of Oak Harbor, one of more than 2,000 attorneys in the ADF alliance, is serving as local counsel in Ascherl v. City of Issaquah, filed with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.
- Pronunciation guide: Ascherl (ASH’-earl)
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.