Federal Suit Over Religious Soliciting Outside Maui Fair
By Wendy Osher
A lawsuit has been filed in federal court alleging First Amendment violations against Maui County.
The suit stems from an incident reported in October of 2013 in which a pastor and his wife were distributing religious materials to the public on a sidewalk outside of the Maui Fair.
The suit alleges that a Maui police officer “ordered them to leave” a public sidewalk, and advised them that they “could also be ejected from other public sidewalks nearby if they attempted to distribute religious literature.”
The suit was filed on Jan. 7, 2014, by the American Civil Liberties Union and the law firm Davis Levin Livingston on behalf of Pastor Strat Goodhue and his wife Doreen.
The plaintiffs say the county rejected an early attempt to resolve the issue through settlement.
In a joint press release announcing the legal challenge, Goodhue said part of his mission is spreading God’s word. He issued the following statement”
“The Maui Fair gives us an opportunity to spread our message to thousands of people on Maui – no other event gives us the same kind of chance to connect with so many people and spread the joy we’ve found through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and to obey God’s command to communicate to everyone about Him and His love and mercy. All we are doing is offering people a Gospel tract. We don’t try to coerce anyone into taking one. The police ordered us to leave, and we complied, but it just felt wrong. I reflected on it and thought: ‘Is this right? Can they really do this?’”
Matthew Winter, with the law firm Davis Levin Livingston, also commented saying, “The fact is that the sidewalk is public space, and under the First Amendment, all are free to express their opinions there.
“While government may set some restrictions on the time, place and manner of speech in order to protect public safety, they are not allowed to unilaterally squash the voice of peaceful, law abiding demonstrators,” said Winter.
Rod Antone, communications director for the County of Maui responded saying, “We have received the complaint and we will be responding to it, however right now it is in litigation and we can’t say anything further.”
A spokesperson with the Maui Police Department said he did not see the claims made in the lawsuit.
This is the second federal lawsuit filed by the ACLU against the County of Maui alleging First Amendment violations in recent months.
A separate lawsuit stemmed from a Jan. 21, 2013 demonstration in which members of the group Maui Peace Action joined in carrying signs as part of a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day march through downtown Wailuku.
According to court documents, plaintiffs, Chuck Carletta and Mele Stokesberry claimed the county sign ordinance was “overly broad” and “unequally enforced.”
That suit ended when the parties reached a settlement late last year in which an agreement was reached on rules modification that required council action for implementation.
ACLU of Hawaii Senior Staff Attorney Daniel Gluck also commented saying, “The fact that we now have to file a similar case concerning sidewalks, just to get the county to comply with the First Amendment, is of great concern to us and should be of great concern to all who reside on or visit the Valley Isle.”