Legal Rights of Street Preachers – How to Handle Police – Jesse Morrell

With 10 years of experience in open air ministry, dealing with the Police on a weekly basis, Jesse Morrell shares some tips in this video on how to handle the Police to avoid being arrested and to continue street preaching. He also shares specifically what the legal rights are in regards to freedom of speech and open air preaching.






I. Open air preaching is protected by the United States Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

II. We have the right to pass out literature, preach, and display signs on public areas (Coates v. Cincinnati 402 U.S. 611 / Edwards v. S. Carolina, 372 U.S. 299 / Furr v. Town of Swansea, F. Supp. 1543).

III. We have the right to exercise our religion and speak in all quintessential public forums (Frisby vs. Schultz, 487 U.S. 474 / U.S. v. Grace, 461 U.S. 171, 176).

IV. We have a “guaranteed access” to streets, parks, and other ‘traditional public forum” and mere inconvenience to the government will not outweigh our free speech interests (Hague v. C.I.O. 307 U.S. 496).

V. Our freedom of speech may not be prohibited merely because it offends some listeners (Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296 / Simon & Shuster v. New York State Crime Victims Bd, 502 U.S. 105 / N.Y. Ties v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254).

VI. A city may not consider the listener’s reaction when permitting free speech activity (Forsyth County v. The Nationalist Movement, 505 U.S. 123).

VII. Hecklers do not have veto power over a speaker’s right of free speech but Police must control a crowd rather than arrest the speaker in order to maintain order (Cox. v. Louisiana, 379 U.S. 536).

VIII. We have the right to be loud enough to be heard (Saia v. New York, 334 U.S. 1943).

IX. We have the right to be protected by law enforcement if the crowd is offended by what we are preaching and becomes hostile (Hedges v. W.C.U.S.D. No. 118, et al. 9F.3d 1295).

X. Permits are not allowed to be used to restrict a speaker’s right of free expression and permits may not be used as a prior restraint on free speech (Kunz v. New York, 340 U.S. 290).

XI. A free speech lawsuit is a Federal case and allows us to sue Policemen and guards in their official capacity and as individuals (Freedom Restoration Act, Title 42, Section 2000aa.).

XII. A freedom of speech lawsuit will subject them to pay our damages and all our attorney fees (42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988).





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10 Responses to Legal Rights of Street Preachers – How to Handle Police – Jesse Morrell

  1. Nate Runels says:

    Hey Jesse, I have a question in regards to private property (owned by a corporation) used as an outdoor public mall. No pass is required to enter, but there is a private security firm from which the guards threaten people who handout religious literature. Although there is no statement of rules and regulations on the property in regards to this. They continue to claim to have authority in regards to this on the property.

    I appreciate your input.

    – Nathaniel Runels

  2. Great stuff, Jesse. The one that seems challenging to me, though, is the oh-so-subjective “disturbing the peace” charge that police seem to use as a catch-all to shut you down.

    Have you encountered this particular obstacle?

    God bless!!

    • Yes many times. I tell them that free speech itself does not quality as disturbing the peace and that hecklers don’t have veto power. I’ve been successful by challenging them there on the street when they bring that up. And I once had to file a lawsuit over the disturbing the peace issue.

  3. Darin J Alexander says:

    Hello , this is Darin and I was arrested this weekend for preaching the gospel. My question is even though they didn’t come out and say you are under arrest for street preaching they charged me with resisting arrest and two counts of disturbing the peace. So is this illegal?

  4. David Gesner says:

    Great Information! I used Jesse’s advice recently and our street preaching event went very smoothly when the police were called.

  5. Livia Lopez says:

    My son who is 18 just got a call that a civil complaint is being processed against him for street preaching.. what should his next step be?

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