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April 24, 2007
Gideons Cleared, then Re-Charged
In February, a couple of folks from the Gideons were arrested for trespassing while on a public sidewalk in front of a school handing out Bibles. A comment on my personal blog to that story noted that the trespass charges were related to the two men staying in their cars on school property after being asked to leave. Well, regardless of the actual act that was the cause of the charges, they have been dismissed by the state.
Only to be replaced with new charges.
"Following the initial motion to dismiss filed by [Alliance Defense Fund] attorneys, the state dismissed the charges but then filed new ones under a different statute," the ADF said.
"The distribution of Bibles on a public sidewalk is not a criminal offense," said ADF Senior Legal Counsel David Cortman. "The attempts by Florida officials to continue pressing for the prosecution of Mr. Mirto and Mr. Simpson is not only blatantly unconstitutional, it borders on religious persecution."
The incident developed Jan. 19, when the two men were distributing Bibles on a public sidewalk outside Key Largo School but did not step onto school grounds, the ADF said. Both men were arrested, booked, and charged with trespassing after the school's principal called police. On March 8, ADF attorneys filed a motion to dismiss and the state did dismiss those counts.
However, it filed new charges under a different law that prohibits anyone from being within 500 feet of any school property, including on public sidewalks and streets, without having either "legitimate business" or permission, the ADF said.
"The facts are clear: Mr. Mirto and Mr. Simpson are guilty of nothing more than peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights," Cortman said. "For whatever reason, the state is grasping at straws in order to justify the punishment of these men."
The state of Florida is now in the "untenable position of trying to justify the punishment of fundamental First Amendment activities in a quintessential traditional public forum," the law firm said. Under U.S. Supreme Court precedents over the last century, that is a "blatant violation of their constitutional rights."
The school disputes that they were on a public sidewalk, saying that they were in fact on school property, but one imagines that if that were so then the initial charges would have stuck.
Posted by Doug at April 24, 2007 05:09 PM