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Victory for Gideon threatened with arrest for distributing Bibles on public sidewalk

Florida judge grants ADF motion for preliminary injunction, allowing Christian to resume activities until case is resolved
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MIAMI — A federal judge in Florida cleared the way Wednesday for a member of Gideons International to resume distributing Bibles on a public sidewalk, without fear of arrest, until his case is resolved.  The court granted a motion for preliminary injunction requested by attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund who represent Thomas Gray and struck down as unconstitutional a state statute under which he was threatened with arrest.  Based on this ruling, the state is now prohibited from enforcing the statute.

“All citizens, including those with a religious message, have a constitutional right to express their faith on a public sidewalk.  Christians are not second-class citizens under the Constitution when it comes to free speech,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel David Cortman.  “We are pleased that Mr. Gray will have the opportunity to continue his activities without fear of harassment or arrest while the lawsuit moves forward.”

On Jan. 19, Gray and other members of the Gideons Key Largo Camp began distributing Bibles on a public sidewalk outside Key Largo School.  In accordance with the Gideons’ Key Largo Camp policy, they did not step on to school grounds, and they notified the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office of their plans ahead of time.  School officials were also notified on the day of distribution.  Both said the activity was permissible.

Two other Gideons at the scene, Anthony Mirto and Ernest Simpson, were arrested and placed in a Monroe County patrol car.  A police officer mocked the two men, saying they could “pray to Jesus all the way to jail.”  Fearing arrest, Gray left the scene and has not returned.  ADF attorneys filed suit on behalf of Gray on April 20.

“The law is clear:  The distribution of Bibles on a public sidewalk is not illegal,” said Cortman. “However, it is a violation of the law for officials to silence Christians whose only intent is to exercise their free speech rights.”

In June, U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Garber recommended that the district court grant the motion.

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.