A Tennessee man is demanding the right to exercise his First Amendment rights in public.
First Liberty Institute and the Center for Religious Expression (CRE) have sent a demand letter to the City of Sweetwater on behalf of their client, Paul Johnson. The letter asks the city to stop using a 25-year-old ordinance to prohibit Johnson from reading from a Bible on a public sidewalk without a permit.
First Liberty attorney Chelsey Youman says Johnson, a local bus driver, believes in preaching the gospel and views his Tennessee home as his own mission field. But the city, she says, informed Johnson that he can't speak publicly about his faith without a city permit.
"And when he went to try to obtain a permit, they denied it," the attorney alleges. "So it's essentially they're requiring him to get a permission slip to talk about his faith."
The incident dates back to August, when Johnson stood near a Solar Eclipse Festival and was told by authorities his actions constituted a "demonstration," hence the permit.
The city attorney's office in Sweetwater did not respond to OneNewsNow's request for comment.
First Liberty expects a formal response in a few weeks.
Meanwhile, Youman says constitutional law on this subject is very clear and well-established.
"He's speaking on a public sidewalk," she says of Johnson, "which is considered a public forum, and the Supreme Court has unanimously held in the past that public sidewalks are traditional areas where people can speak about any topics, whether it's politics, religion or anything they want to publicly."
"Every American has the right to share earnestly-held views in public," says CRE chief counsel Nate Kellum. "No one should need government permission to preach."