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Police in NY shrug off court order, deny religious free speech

ADF attorneys file suit against city of Ithaca for enforcing invalidated law in defiance of court order

NEW YORK — Alliance Defense Fund attorneys have filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Ithaca on behalf of a Christian man denied his free speech rights even after he showed police officers a court order prohibiting them from enforcing an unconstitutional “noise” ordinance.  ADF attorneys also filed a motion asking the court to suspend the ordinance while the case moves forward.

“Christians shouldn’t be penalized for expressing their beliefs, especially when a court has expressly upheld their right to do so, as is the case here,” said ADF Senior Counsel Nate Kellum.  “Police officers cannot step beyond their authority and illegally suppress Christian speech in defiance of a court order.”

In 2006, ADF attorneys secured a favorable ruling against the city of Ithaca on behalf of Kevin Deegan.  The court’s order prohibited officials from enforcing a municipal code that unreasonably restricts sounds on public streets, sidewalks, or paths that can be heard from 25 feet away.

Officers initially approached Deegan in 1999 for violating the code while he was sharing a gospel message 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 breaking the 25-foot “noise” 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.

In the Deegan lawsuit, a noise expert testified that the law would also outlaw everyday sounds such as the clicking of boots, small children playing, a ringing cell phone, and typical conversations.  Ithaca Commons is a public forum bustling with the sounds of recreation, celebration, commerce, demonstration, rallies, music, poetry, speeches, and other expressive undertakings.

ADF-allied attorney Bob Genant is serving as local counsel 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.