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Lost Liberties: Court Mulls Mall’s “Don’t Talk to Strangers” Rule

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Sacramento, CA – The California Court of Appeal is considering the constitutionality of a Sacramento-area shopping mall’s attempt to prevent adult patrons from talking to each other about hot-button topics such as religion and politics.

The case arose after a youth pastor, Matthew Snatchko, was arrested at the Roseville Galleria Mall in 2007 for striking up a casual conversation with two other shoppers about faith. Although Snatchko had first obtained the shoppers’ permission to broach the subject, a nearby store employee disapproved and called mall security guards, who arrested Snatchko. Criminal charges were later dropped, but attorneys with Pacific Justice Institute filed suit to challenge the mall’s tight restrictions on speech.

Under the mall’s rules, shoppers are not allowed to engage in conversations about potentially controversial topics like religion or politics, unless they already know the person they are talking to. Another mall rule bans the wearing of any clothing with religious or political messages.

After a Placer County Superior Court judge upheld the mall’s rules in 2008, Pacific Justice Institute appealed to the Third Appellate District in Sacramento. Written briefing at the Court of Appeal concluded last week. The case is proceeding in state court and is based on state constitutional provisions because those provisions, unlike the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, extend free speech protections to some non-governmental settings like shopping malls.

PJI Staff Attorney Matthew McReynolds, who submitted the appellate briefs, has been mystified by the mall’s adherence to its draconian rules. “It’s surprising that mall owners think they can arrest patrons for engaging in casual conversations,” he said. “While a ‘don’t talk to strangers’ rule may be good for kids, enforcing it against adults is absurd, and we think it violates California’s free speech guarantees.”

PJI President Brad Dacus commented, “Singling out religious speech for punishment violates our most basic principles of free expression. If anyone can be arrested for wearing a Christian t-shirt or mentioning God in a shopping mall, we have lost not only our freedom, but our sanity as a society.”

PJI affiliate attorney Timothy Smith, of the Sacramento firm McKinley & Smith, served pro bono as Snatchko’s lead counsel in the trial court and continues to serve as part of the appellate team. —From the Pacific Justice Institute

5 Comments

  1. “If anyone can be arrested for wearing a Christian t-shirt or mentioning God in a shopping mall, we have lost not only our freedom, but our sanity as a society.”

    EXACTLY!!!!

    How odd this would even be considered in “the land of the FREE”.

  2. I say to those Christian Californians, wear those Jesus shirts in the mall. We must obey God rather than men. America is becoming a closed country to Christianity like China and other closed countries. Be sure to read this months Voice of the Martyrs magazine. It is about what they do to spread the Gospel in closed countries.

    We might as well keep doing what God has called us to do according to his Word.
    So Christian brother and sister: Are you ready to go to jail for declaring Jesus?

  3. Sadly, we are not the land of the free, if you see what is going on around us. This is even less encouraging. Prayer is need, in volume and in haste!

  4. For the record, I have no problem with people wearing Christian shirts or talking about God at the mall, unless it infringes on the *rights* of others.

    That is, if you ask someone about God, and they say that they’re busy or “no thank you”, and you allow them to move on, I have no problems.

  5. I’m with Nohm and will go a step further and say that talk about religion, politics and other hot-button topics should be actively encouraged in places like malls.

    They’re the ‘forum’ of the modern world – that’s where ideas should be shared. If your idea is strong enough, it has nothing to fear.

    As for wearing shirts – that’s just fascist BS (excuse my French).

    Don’t let them get away with this kind of censorship; it ain’t right.

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