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By JAMES MINTON
Advocate Baker - Zachary bureau
Published: Dec 4, 2007 - Page: 1B
A federal judge has barred Zachary from enforcing part of an ordinance making it a crime to publicly direct “offensive, derisive or annoying words” at another person.
U.S. District Judge James Brady, in a ruling Friday, granted an injunction in favor of John Todd Netherland, the Baker resident threatened with arrest in November 2006 for preaching outside a Plank Road restaurant against drunkenness and fornication.
The ruling says the section of Zachary’s disturbing-the-peace ordinance in question contains the words “annoying,” “offensive” and “derisive,” but does not clearly say what conduct is impermissible.
Those terms “fail to provide objective, discernable meaning,” the ruling says.
“Speech that is considered ‘annoying’ or ‘offensive’ varies by individual opinion. One wishing to go to a public place and speak cannot know what type of speech will be prohibited in Zachary, and the terms of the ordinance give way to arbitrary enforcement by police,” Brady wrote.
Netherland sued the city and police Lt. Troy Eubanks earlier this year after being threatened with arrest for preaching from a public easement near the parking lot of Sidelines Grill at the Plank Road-La. 64 intersection.
The manager of the restaurant, which serves alcoholic beverages, said during a September hearing he called police after “several customers complained about a man in the parking lot calling them fornicators.”
In his ruling, Brady said police never saw Netherland in the parking lot, but he may have briefly strayed onto the lot.
Nevertheless, Netherland “expressed his religious message from a public easement,” Brady wrote, calling a public easement a “quintessential traditional public forum” for exercising First Amendment rights.
“Religious speech cannot be silenced because it is controversial or offensive,” the ruling says.
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