Pastor Threatened with Arrest for Passing Tracts in Park
For 22 years Pastor David Stevenson and his family have witnessed and passed out tracts on the streets and in the parks of Renton, Washington.
Imagine their surprise when the parks department called the police who informed them that what they were doing was illegal.
Curious, Stevenson asked if a verbal witness to someone about Jesus was also forbidden. "He said that he couldn't stop us from doing that but that as soon as I took a tract out of my pocket I would be arrested," recalls Stevenson.
"I have a mandate from God and I believe that what I am doing is protected by the First Amendment to our Constitution," Stevenson replied.
The policeman then instructed the parks official to issue Stevenson a "Suspension/Exclusion" notice and explained that he would be arrested for criminal trespass if he visited any city park in the future.
Stevenson knew he was in the right and could not back down. This happened the week before the Fourth of July festivities.
Stevenson determined that he and a large party from his church would go back into the park with tracts and witness to the crowd after a speech that was to be given by the mayor on the 4th.
The media got wind of the situation over the weekend and featured Stevenson and a Seattle University law school professor on a local live news show.
In the discussion it was stated that the city did not need to protect its citizens against religion. The professor stated his opinion that the city would make a mistake if they arrested Stevenson.
At noon on the 4th, Stevenson and about 40 members of his congregation showed up at the park. They gave a statement to the media and were interviewed. After the mayor finished speaking, the group went into the park with tracts.
"I think a lot of people had seen or heard the news reports and with cameras from three of the four major TV stations in Seattle following me, it was like giving out candy," Stevenson said. "In just a few minutes I gave out about 25 US constitutions and 75-100 tracts. There was not a policeman insight."
Afterward the news reporters interviewed the mayor who admitted that the city had backed down and were exploring their legal options.
Meanwhile, Stevenson had called the Christian Law Association who sent legal information to the city attorney explaining that if Pastor Stevenson was arrested for exercising his constitutional rights, he might have a legitimate legal claim against the city.
After reviewing the CLA materials, the city decided that Pastor Stevenson was free to share his faith.
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