God grants a Publick Ministry Victory on the Home Front
The following is a report from James Knox, on a meeting of the DeLand, Florida City Council meeting on the issue of street preaching in their city, the meeting was held on Monday February 17, 2003
Last night the Deland City Council adopted a resolution to "take no action to interfere with street preaching, literature distribution or other forms of evangelism." In addition the members of the council publicly apologized for their actions against us.
At 6:30 our people arrived and 130 were present for a 7:00 meeting in a chamber seating 100. The council delayed the start of the meeting to plan their strategy and take some very deep breaths.
When our item on the agenda came up the city attorney addressed all and stated that he had been instructed by the members of the five member council to advise them as to what legal action they could take to prohibit our activities. He warned them that they were on dangerous legal ground and advised them that there had been no misconduct on our part to warrant any action.
I then addressed the council (my remarks, in full, are attached) and was followed by our two lawyers and one of our church members who is a former councilman. Our lawyers cited case law and explained that we would not surrender our right to free speech on one square foot of public property. Many cities are now establishing "free speech zones" whereby preaching and tract distribution is allowed but in limited area. While the CLA and other groups accept this, we cannot.
Next, a downtown merchant, stood with his Bible and said that the reason the downtown area continues to suffer economically is because God will not bless and town or its businesses if they oppose the disciples of Jesus Christ.
Then, a female attorney rose to say that she was offended by our message, disagreed with our beliefs and warned that if the council did anything to interfere with us she would have the ACLU in Deland in a moment to defend our right.
There were people who had come to speak against us. God so moved in answer to our fervent prayers that not one of them rose to address the council. Not a word was spoken against us by anyone during the entire course of the meeting. God shut their mouths.
It should be noted that not one pastor or church leader was present to speak on our behalf.
After all was said and done the two council members who had sought to ban our activities offered apologies saying they were misunderstood and really had been in favor of what we were doing all along. Right.
A motion was made and carried to leave us alone. Hallelujah.
Afterward, the police officer on duty took me aside and said, "I have been working these meetings for 20 years. I have never seen a group come in here and sit quietly and politely and respectfully as yours did. And in all those years I have never heard so such a clear, eloquent and truthful defense of a citizen's right as I heard tonight. Thank you for what you are doing for our town."
Thank you for your prayers. It was a wonderful evening
(following is the text of the address the Bro. James made to the city council)
THE FULL TEXT OF BROTHER JAMES ADDRESS TO THE DELAND CITY COUNCIL, FEBRUARY 17, 2003
Good evening ladies and gentlemen.
Every three or four years we have one of these little get togethers so that everyone can be reminded of one of the things that makes America great the right to free speech.
It is not a bad thing to have men and women seek to ban free speech in public places for it allows all of us to take another look at our wonderful Constitution and Bill of Rights and to once again take careful note that no state or municipality may enact legislation that stands to violate these constitutional liberties.
In 1985, I believe it was in the fall, I went to the police headquarters and informed them of my intentions to begin preaching on the streets of Deland that Christ Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose again the third day and that all who would trust Him would receive the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life.
Since that time others have joined me in this activity. For 18 years the police department and this citys attorneys have helped ward off those who would put their personal interests and feelings ahead of a citizens constitutional rights. Whenever merchants or residents have called the police to complain about our activities, the police have politely explained our right to preach. Whenever elected officials have tried to infringe upon our freedom, the city attorneys have consistently stood in our defense.
In 1986 an ordinance was in put place prohibiting the distribution of religious literature within the city limits. I have with me a copy of that ordinance. This attempt to rid the town of our Christian influence was handled by then city attorney David Russ who informed the mayor, commissioners, city manager and chief of police that such an ordinance was non-enforceable and warned them to leave us alone.
Similar attempt to silence us were made in 1991, 1994, and 1998. We are still preaching.
This most recent attempt to silence the preaching of the gospel in downtown Deland has been disguised as a concern for public safety.
Since 1985 our ministry has resulted in no accidents involving autos, no injuries to pedestrians and no heart attacks, despite the reports of how we terrorize the community.
During this same time our hospitals and morgues have received a steady flow of people victimized by those under the influence of alcohol. Yet those who cry about a concern for public safety hold no meetings such as this to rid Deland of the poison of strong drink. If you were concerned about public safety you would be dealing with those who peddle alcohol, not those who preach the gospel.
While the concern here seems to center around our activities in the downtown area, it should be understood that we occupy numerous corners throughout the city. Here are photographs of public proclamations of the gospel near Friendlys, Wal Mart, at Beresford, Taylor Road and Highway 17 (photographs displayed). We attend each special event, the art shows, fireworks displays and parades. Each time and place someone forgets that we are free to express our views and calls the police, only to be reminded that we are living in a free society.
Over the years we have met with many of you privately to discuss our activities. Because we are the most frequent and consistent practitioners of free speech in the downtown area we understand that we will bear the blame for everyone who is rude, offensive or belligerent, whether they are part of our church or not. While we wish that everyone who exercised their liberties did so with kindness and courtesy, we do defend the right of all to speak. I speak tonight for those who beat drums in an attempt to drown us out, those who mock us. We defend the right of those who stand on the corners with campaign signs and shout at passers by even if three months later those very same people want to ban such a practice.
It has been argued that we hurt the business community in Deland. Since 1985 our church, which you classify as a business, has seen a growth of 2000% in membership and in finances. A dozen families have moved to Deland just to be a part of our church. Several more are preparing to move as soon as they can secure employment or sell a home.
I have often been misquoted by the local media, so perhaps one of you did not actually refer to us as a monster. (One councilman referred to us in the press by that name). Ladies and gentlemen, the hundreds who make up our membership do not comprise "a monster." We are your doctors and lawyers. We are your school teachers and electricians. We are your farmers and your clerks, your mothers, grandfathers and merchants. Our people eat in your restaurants, shop in your stores, fill your motel rooms and pay taxes to fund your activities. We dont live on air. We buy food in your markets. We dont go around naked. We buy clothes in your shops.
Our women do not need your abuse shelters, our men do not fill your jails or clog your courts, our boys and girls do not steal from you to feed their drug habit. You may find as annoying, but there are far greater problems in this city than our proclaiming the good news. Deland has its share of public safety issues. Preaching the truth about Jesus Christ is not one of them.
In a meeting last Friday with the city manager and the head of the merchants association, it was lamented that we "are a magnet, drawing people from all over America to Deland." If an art show, sky diving meet, basketball tournament or craft fair draws people it is applauded. If we draw them it is bad for business? Such talk betrays a shallow prejudice. Why is it good to bring bikers, race fans and dog show enthusiasts to our community, but bad to bring Christians? That is a position I trust you will carefully reconsider.
In closing let me say that we will continue to proclaim, in public and in private that Christ died for our sins.
We will continue to proclaim, in public and in private that Jesus rose from the dead.
We will continue to proclaim, in public and in private that he is the one and only Savior of all mankind and that no one will get to heaven unless they trust Him as their personal savior.
We will continue to engage in our activity regardless of whether or not you attempt to prohibit us. We desire no conflict, but we will not allow any ordinance passed by this commission to override the command of our dear Savior or the foundation of all United States law.
The News Journal reported that "street preaching is a long standing tradition in Deland." That tradition will continue.