A Christian legal firm filed suit Wednesday on behalf of two Christian men who were arrested for witnessing on the streets.
Mark Frost and Jayson Gardner were charged last year under a N.H. law against "unreasonable or loud" noise. Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund argue the men's free speech rights were denied.
"Christians shouldn't be arrested for expressing their beliefs. Arresting someone simply because he chooses to exercise his First Amendment rights in a public place is unconstitutional," said ADF Senior Counsel Joseph Infranco, in a statement.
Infranco accuses police officer Matthew Kulesz of singling out the young men who simply wanted to share their faith with those who passed by on Ocean Boulevard in Hampton Beach.
According to ADF attorneys, there was a loud rock concert at the beach boardwalk during the time the men were preaching. Noise from the band along with the commotion from nearby traffic and pedestrians prompted the men to speak through a handmade paper "megaphone" in order to be heard by passers-by.
Their small "megaphone," however, was deemed a violation of a town noise ordinance by the police officer. They were told to stay quiet and stop using the megaphone.
Meanwhile, the nearby rock concert was not scrutinized, according ADF.
Frost and the Gardner moved two blocks away and preached without the rolled up paper. When they began to sing "He Set Me Free" the same officer arrested them for being too loud.
As they were being taken into custody, the men allege that the officer said, "Where is your God now? There's no God behind these walls."
The Christian men were charged with disorderly conduct, or more specifically for "making loud or unreasonable noises in a public place." Although the charge was dismissed by the Hampton District Court, Frost and Gardner have refrained from sharing their faith on public sidewalks, fearing another arrest.
Frost and Gardner "are Christians who, as a tenet of their faith, believe they are discharging a religious duty by publicly proclaiming and communicating their faith and convictions to others," the lawsuit states. "The impact of deterring the plaintiffs from expressing their religious viewpoints on public ways in Hampton constitutes irreparable harm to the plaintiffs.
"Mr. Frost and Mr. Gardner wish to engage in speech activity that is fully protected under the Free Speech clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution."
And the notion that society may find the men's speech activities offensive "is not a sufficient reason for suppressing it," the complaint also notes.
ADF attorneys claim the statute on disorderly conduct is vague and the Town of Hampton's policy in applying the statute is also vague and allows the exercise of unbridled discretion. They allege the police officer applied the statute in "a discriminatory and arbitrary fashion."
ADF's Infranco said they're hoping the suit will result in "a more properly worded state statute."