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Incident Report, Pt. 2: Our Lawyer’s Letter

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(Read part 1 by clicking here.)

Several weeks ago I posted a report about an incident that happened at our local fishing hole, the Redondo Beach Pier. A new, rather over zealous police officer forbade our team from passing out Gospel tracts—even threatening them with a citation if they did not stop— though we were not in violation of any law. (Read about it here.) Our team leader Ed Lee graciously submitted to the officer’s request.

With my Senior Pastor’s approval, I decided to pursue the matter further since I’m the overseer of the evangelism ministry at our church. All I wanted is a letter from our lawyer sent to the police department explaining our First Amendment right to free speech. I’ll explain the effect after you read it. Here it is:

Redondo Beach Police Department
Attn: Chief W. Joseph Leonardi
401 Diamond Street
Redondo Beach, CA 90277

Re:   Incident of June 18, 2011

 

Dear Chief Leonardi:

 

Please be advised that the undersigned has been consulted by members of Hope Chapel Christian Church in Hermosa Beach California, regarding an incident which occurred on June 18, 2011, while they were peacefully participating in an evangelism outreach program on the Redondo Beach Pier.

 

At approximately 3:45 p.m., Sergeant ____________ approached several of the participants, told them that they were in violation of the law and they would be cited or arrested for handing out religious literature on the public pier. Religious literature constitutes protected speech under the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America, the California Constitution and judicial precedent interpreting the same. Not only was the exercise of free speech and assembly on the public pier proper, your officers must further act to protect those individuals who are engaging in the expression of free speech if exposed to hostile or aggressive conduct by others, no matter how distasteful it may be to the officers.

 

I trust this incident was merely a lapse in judgment by Sergeant ________ and that conduct such as this will not occur in the future. If, in fact, the members of Hope Chapel have in any way violated any state, federal or local law, please advise the undersigned as to what law or statue applies; otherwise, I anticipate that there will be no further violations of their individual constitutional right in the future.

 

Thank you in advance for you cooperation.

 

Very truly yours,

 

LAW OFFICES OF ROBERT DAVID CIACCIO

What was the result of this firm and gentle letter? So far, no more threats or interruptions. Ed Lee did get a call at his home from the Officer two days after the incident and before the letter was sent. I advised Ed to respond after the letter was received and read by the department. I will report on what happened as soon as I get the info.

41 Comments

  1. I’ll be interested to see how the police department reacts to the letter.

  2. Very interested to see how the police department responds.

  3. I ran into a friend of my brother two days ago while I was out for a walk. She commented on the Hope Chapel T- shirt I was wearing and asked about the Church. She shared her distaste of religion because of some over-zealous religious family members in her upbringing. We chatted a little about the peace and purpose that Christ gives. She accpted a gospel tract as we parted ways. Sharing my faith with people that I know has a different set of difficulties. However, if I don’t learn to give this gospel that I have to people close to me then I don’t feel like much of a friend at all.

  4. very nice letter by the lawyer!
    And a good move by your Senior Pastor to get this legal opinion down in black and white and sent to the appropriate authorities.

    it would probably also be a good move for someone from the church to meet with the City Attorney to go over what was covered in the letter. That way the City Attorney’s office is aware of what is happening and can work in partnership with the police to stem any future incidents like this one.

    keeping everyone apprised of the law can benefit all the citizens of Redondo Beach.

  5. The Officer called Ed at home? That sounds unprofessional, what happened with that?

  6. The Officer called Ed at home?

    Yeah, unless that was an apology, that sounds weird.

  7. Maybe the officer read one of the million dollar tracts, denounced atheism, threw away his Richard Dawkins posters, books, underoos and action figures, repented, accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior and wanted to contact Ed and tell him the good news!

    Now that is what I call Redondo Beach Redemption!!!

    Can I get an Amen?

  8. I’m sorry, but I must have missed where the officer stated he was an atheist. You do know that there are many theists that don’t like street preaching.

  9. perdita,

    There are also many theists who don’t like the Bible and would never submit to its precepts. I’ll bet there’s a large intersection between the two groups. They probably also don’t believe that Jesus was a street preacher.

  10. I hope that Sergeant _____ has been thinking about the GOOD NEWS that Ed and his team were trying to share with the people at the Redondo Beach Pier.

  11. Glen – the point is that DJ Humble has no basis for saying the officer was an atheist.

  12. Glenn wrote:

    There are also many theists who don’t like the Bible and would never submit to its precepts.

    Yes, they’re called Muslims and Jews and Hindus and so on.

    There are also Christians of differing sects, not all of whom think that the LW method of evangelism is either (1) working or (2) matches Jesus’ evangelism. If you go on youtube, you can find videos of pastors and ministers speaking against the LW method of evangelism.

    They probably also don’t believe that Jesus was a street preacher.

    How did you reach that conclusion?

  13. To be fair, I’m pretty sure that Jesus didn’t hand out tracts – or use a loudspeaker, though I hope I’m preaching to the choir on the latter issue. I’m not sure that what Jesus did has much in common at all with modern-day street preaching.

  14. I don’t get why the atheists even care about street preaching? To them Christianity and religion is just make believe nonsense. So why get all bent out of shape over it?

    I don’t get mad over things that I think are make believe nonsense. I can imagine some of these atheists as children watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and yelling, “Mommy! The man on tv should be arrested!”

    Atheists for the amount of time that you spend each day being angry over street preaching and worrying about Christianity you could write two short or one long fan letter to Richard Dawkins, walk a mile, read 50 pages of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and watch 3 hours of Animal Planet.

    Now that is reasonable!

    Be Happy!

  15. See troll some of us enjoy the conversation. I know that’s unfathomable to a troll but that’s just the way things are.

    I mean I don’t understand why a Christian would troll a Christian blog. *shrug*

    And again with the bizarre obsession with Dawkins. I don’t get it. I mean it’s not us sending him secret gifts, dedicating love songs, making him clothes, painting pictures of him, stalking him on tour,.. that’s you guys.

  16. dwbha:

    I can imagine some of these atheists as children watching Mister Rogers’…

    And what is the difference between someone on TV and someone on a street with their amp turned up so loud that you can hear them in your living room? (Was it Carol that did that?) (BTW, your example makes no sense. If you’re going for humorous hyperbole, 1- have a point, 2- be funny. )

    I don’t get why the atheists even care about street preaching?

    As an atheist, I don’t begrudge you your right to distribute tracts or preach.

    Why do I care? Because it does effect me. First, there’s a free speech issue that needs to be upheld.

    Second, within lawful activity there’s appropriate and inappropriate behavior. I like that Steve puts that out for discussion. We may disagree where the line falls, but at least he recognizes that there is a line.

  17. A Hare Krishna gave me a “tract” once. I told her, “Thank you.” She asked me if I was interested in religion and I told her that I was a Christian. She told me that I should read the tract and check out the website that was on it. I said I would do that. She smiled, I smiled and we wished each other a nice day.

    I wasn’t bothered one bit that someone held some ideas that were different and in conflict with my own.

    Now if I were perhaps an atheist I would have thrown a fit, maybe use some profanity, rip the tract up or burn it right then and there, stomp to my car, drive 80 miles per hour home and then spend hours writing a an overly wordy letter to my local representative, police captain or someone that owned a business close to where the Hare Krishna girl handed me a tract and demand that they stop all such activity to my satisfaction and immediately. That’s what I would have done if perhaps I were an atheist, but I’m not an atheist so I just went home and had a nice day and counted my blessings. That’s how I roll.

  18. you forgot ‘…then I trolled a Christian blog’

  19. @perdita

    “Second, within lawful activity there’s appropriate and inappropriate behavior.”

    Are you saying there are both appropriate and inappropriate behaviors that can fall within the definition of lawful activity? Wouldn’t that mean there might be unlawful activity that is appropriate?

  20. BathTub wrote:

    you forgot ‘…then I trolled a Christian blog’

    Actually, to be fully correct, he forgot:

    …then I trolled a Christian blog using a silly number of sock-puppets.

    Stormpuppets, I’ve said it quite a few times and I’ll keep saying it: as a user of sock-puppets, you don’t have a leg to stand on.

    In short, you self-pwn. Every time you use another sock-puppet to try to do failed mind-reading, you self-pwn. You are your own worst enemy; you don’t need us.

  21. Anthony wrote:

    Are you saying there are both appropriate and inappropriate behaviors that can fall within the definition of lawful activity? Wouldn’t that mean there might be unlawful activity that is appropriate?

    I would say so, yes. An easy example is once again the whole “hiding Jews in the attic during WWII” issue.

    For the record, I also agree that there are both appropriate and inappropriate behaviors that can fall within the definition of lawful activity.

  22. Stormpuppets wrote:

    Now if I were perhaps an atheist I would have thrown a fit, maybe use some profanity, rip the tract up or burn it right then and there, stomp to my car, drive 80 miles per hour home and then spend hours writing a an overly wordy letter to my local representative, police captain or someone that owned a business close to where the Hare Krishna girl handed me a tract and demand that they stop all such activity to my satisfaction and immediately. That’s what I would have done if perhaps I were an atheist,

    Will you admit that you made all of this up to denigrate others, or can you actually point to any example that even remotely matches with your paragraph?

    I mean, I could do the same to you, but that would make me dishonest. You do believe in a commandment against lying, right?

  23. perdita bonita asked:

    And what is the difference between someone on TV and someone on a street with their amp turned up so loud that you can hear them in your living room?

    Answer:

    The comment was about atheists getting acutely bent out of shape over street preaching and religion.

    If atheists get upset, angry and outraged over something that they consider to be make believe nonsense (i.e. religion) than an atheist child would similarly get upset, angry and outraged while watching Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood because the land that the trolley goes to is “The Neighborhood of Make-Believe”. They would shout to their momma that Mr. Rogers needs to be arrested for talking about something that is make believe.

  24. Given that lawful and appropriate don’t mean the same thing, I would think the answer would be ‘of course’.

  25. Stormpuppets, do you understand why we see a vast difference between Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood and “street preaching and religion”?

    You seem to think that we either do or should see them as the same.

    Please explain.

  26. Stormpuppets,

    Do you understand why we get “upset, angry and outraged” (your words, not mine, as I don’t get any of those emotions over this) over religion, from our point of view?

    Second question: do you even care why we do? Or do you prefer failed mind-reading, hyperbole, and lying? If so, why?

  27. Are you saying there are both appropriate and inappropriate behaviors that can fall within the definition of lawful activity?

    I thought that was obvious. For instance, bad manners are not illegal.

  28. Bad manners are most certainly illegal if the other person wears a badge and gun or wears a black dress and calls himself “Judge.”

  29. Really Anthony? Do you really believe that? If a Policeman or a Judge didn’t say Please or Thank You, that would be illegal?

  30. Bad manners are most certainly illegal if the other person wears a badge and gun or wears a black dress and calls himself “Judge.”

    I speak from personal experience (granted, from quite a few years ago) that showing bad manners to a cop is not illegal.

    “Contempt of Court” is, of course, illegal. But if I show bad manners to the judge while he’s walking to his courtroom, that is not illegal.

  31. So if a cop or judge respond violently to bad manners, they are acting outside the law?

  32. So if a cop or judge respond violently to bad manners, they are acting outside the law?

    Depends on the example of “bad manners”, and on the example of “respond violently”.

    Do you have an example?

  33. Let’s say someone fails to stand for Judge in court when they say “all rise.” I’m 99% positive there is no law to compel anyone to stand; it is merely the threat of violence, instead.

    Assuming there is no law, are they acting outside the law if they take any action upon someone who fails to stand when they tell them to? Is that appropriate or inappropriate behavior?

    If this is considered appropriate, why is there a double standard? Is it just because they have the guns?

  34. “In short, you self-pwn. Every time you use another sock-puppet to try to do failed mind-reading, you self-pwn. You are your own worst enemy; you don’t need us.”

    Nohm, you’re attempting mind reading yourself. Today is the first day that I have read this post. Perhaps your own trolling and dirty sock-puppeteering is playing with your conscience. So, you would do well to stop the accusations unless you have something even remotely resembling evidence. Wow, the paranoia…

    Now, back to the more sensible people.

    Perdita, you said, “As an atheist, I don’t begrudge you your right to distribute tracts or preach. Why do I care? Because it does effect me. First, there’s a free speech issue that needs to be upheld.” I’m glad you said that. You probably know the “poem” or whatever it is that says something like, “They came for ___, I did not stand with them. Then they came for ___, I did not stand with them. Then they came for me, and nobody was left to stand with me.” I know, lousy quote, but the point is valid that disagreements should be put aside for the sake of upholding our rights.

  35. Anthony it is contempt of court, and carries minor penalties. In Robson v. Malone & Kennedy (7th Cir. 1969) two ladies on separate occasions were found in contempt, however their penalties of 10 and 30 days jail time respectively were reduced to time served as part of being evicted from court by the marshall (actual time was a matter of hours).

  36. @Vagon

    Do you equate minor penalties with the possibility of unlimited incarceration?

  37. Anthony I am not sure I follow, do you mean for life or are you talking about some sort of mystical, unlimited incarceration?

    If you mean literally then in the case of contempt of court there are clear precedents (you can see them referred to in the transcript IBID) that practically remove any possibility of being incarcerated for any serious length of time.

  38. @Vagon

    Technically that is not prescience. If you cite the case you referenced in a writ of Habus Corpus, it won’t help anyone who is cited for contempt. Your reference is merely an example supporting your claim.

    I too can cite an example. Here’s one where someone was held in contempt for 18 months for attempting to retain her so-called 5th Amendment Rights:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Susan_McDougal#Whitewater_grand_jury_and_civil_contempt_of_court

  39. Anthony I though you specifically asked for contempt of court in the neglect to rise, in which case this would be prescient. I realise that probably wasnt clear in my post so I apologies. McDougal is a criminal contempt case (max 18months) as opposed to civil (like failing to rise) I’m not sure how it applies? I could understand you getting more annoyed about Chadwick v. Janecka (3d Cir. 2002) but even then the guy was refusing to pay $2.5m.

    This all seems slightly beside the point, the establishment of contempt is fairly obvious in all cases. Where as here the law is not so clear, nor is the potential damages particularly severe. It would be interesting to see what came from this, but my guess is probably nothing as it is such a minor event.

  40. @Vagon

    I was talking about resisting the orders of a judge when there is no law to compel action. Failing to rise is one example. Failing to testify against one self is another.

  41. I think in both cases the law is as clear as it could be. In the first case failing to stand deliberately is failure to acknowledge the courts as an arbiter of justice, the “all rise” isn’t exactly ambiguous.

    In the second case McDougal was not invoking the fifth, there were no charges against her. She was obstructing justice in refusing to testify against someone else.

    This is not the judge being simply rude or even inappropriate. This is them reacting correctly to some fairly childish (Malone & Kennedy) and illegal (McDougal) behaviour.

    If someone wants to be rude without knowingly breaching the existing lawful order there’s nothing to stop them.

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