Lawsuit Reverses Park's Policy Against Religious Handouts

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By Doug Huntington, Christian Post Reporter
August 2, 2007|4:30 pm

A Florida county has reversed its policy against prohibitive standards for handing out religious literature in parks.

Orange County park officials have also given authorization for Shirley Snyder, who the lawsuit is filed on behalf of, to hand out fliers immediately without prior consent.

"If Shirley Snyder would like to distribute leaflets or other printed matter within Orange County Parks, she may do so within normal park hours of operation without prior approval from Orange County," explained park officials in an affidavit filed in federal court Wednesday.

The lawsuit was a result of an incident on Apr. 1 when Snyder was inviting people in Cypress Grove Park to come to her home congregation, Orlando Baptist Church, for their Easter service on the following Sunday. In addition to this, she handed out pocket-sized tracts about Jesus Christ.

She was later stopped by county employees, who said she was breaking the park’s policy. She supposedly needed to first fill out forms with the Parks and Recreation department and then gain permission to distribute religious material.

Attorneys from Liberty Counsel filed a lawsuit on July 20 on behalf of the woman, stating that the guidelines where unconstitutional since the First Amendment already protects free speech in public parks.

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As a result, park officials on Wednesday quickly reversed their park policy to meet these standards and gave express permission to Snyder for her literature distribution.

Liberty Counsel lawyers are still pushing toward the first hearing, however, scheduled for Aug. 17 at the federal courthouse in Orlando. Although the county heads have changed their position, the new regulations do not undo the initial harm that the ban created, the attorneys argue.

"The First Amendment guarantees that public parks and sidewalks in America will remain free and open to expression,” explained Anita Staver, president of Liberty Counsel, in a statement. “Orange County should have known better than to ban religious literature from our public parks. Government officials have a responsibility to educate themselves about constitutional rights, so they don't have to learn their civics lessons in court."

This is not the first problem that Snyder has had over distributing literature around the Easter season. She was also halted by the Orlando International Airport in April 1993 on a Good Friday. In the same way, they also required an application process including identification and insurance in case of liability.

The woman was also represented by Liberty Counsel lawyers at that time, with a lawsuit that led to the airport rewriting its policy. She is now able to freely distribute her materials at that location as well.

 

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