A Christian legal group filed a lawsuit on Friday against a Florida county that prohibited a woman from handing out Easter invitations in a public park.
Liberty Counsel lawyers explained that Orange County's park policy violated Shirley Snyder's First Amendment rights for free speech, and that she had every right to encourage people to come to her church's Easter service.
"Protecting private religious expression was the motivating factor behind the First Amendment," explained Mathew Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel. "The voice of freedom is most at home in public parks."
The incident in question occurred on Apr. 1 when Snyder was in Cypress Grove Park in Orange County inviting people to her home congregation, Orlando Baptist Church, for their Easter service on the following Sunday. As part of her outreach, she handed out pocket-size tracts about Jesus Christ.
While distributing her materials, a county employee approached the woman explaining that she needed to stop, because it was illegal to hand out literature in her manner.
After talking with the park supervisor, she learned that the Parks and Recreation department had regulations that required individuals to first gain permission to distribute literature. Interested people must first submit a copy of the literature along with a written request explaining which days she would work. She could then hand out her papers only after she was granted permission from a committee.
Liberty Counsel attorneys filed the lawsuit, because the policy violated her First Amendment rights, because free speech is highly protected at public parks.
"In America, we do not need permission from a government committee prior to mechanically handing a flyer to a willing recipient in a public park," added Staver. "The government cannot create speech-free zones in public parks."
This is not the first problem Snyder has had distributing literature around Easter season. In April 1993, she also was stopped at the Orlando International Airport on a Good Friday. They also required an application process as well as identification and insurance for liability.
Liberty Counsel attorneys also represented the Christian woman in a lawsuit which led to an airport change in policy and resulted in her freely distributing her literature.