FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 15, 2014
LINCOLN - Today the ACLU of Nebraska said that Larry Ball was exercising his First Amendment rights when distributing religious pamphlets outside of the Pinnacle Bank Arena in March. In documents filed on behalf of Ball, the ACLU asks for charges to be dismissed. Ball was charged with trespassing.
"Christians and individuals of every faith or view point have the right to express their views in the public square," said ACLU of Nebraska Legal Director Amy Miller. "Mr. Ball was peacefully handing out religious materials, the very kind of speech which our Constitution was written to protect. The City, by arresting Mr. Ball and charging him with trespassing, has blatantly violated his rights."
Larry Ball is a 76 year old Navy Veteran and father of four who says becoming a Christian four decades ago saved his life and marriage. He share the story that he credits to saving his life with others by producing pamphlets that he distributes in public areas.
"I was told by the Lincoln Police that the arena was managed by a private agency and I was trespassing," said Ball, "I was then arrested. I've been sharing the story of my faith with others on public property for decades. Being told that I couldn't talk about my faith in this way is both offensive and it was illegal to force me to stop."
"The idea that taxpayers approved funding for the arena, appointed public officials to oversee the arena, but have no free speech rights because the city hired a private company to manage the space is disrespectful to the taxpayers of Lincoln," said Miller. "The sidewalk in front of the arena is clearly public land, no matter which entity gets the paycheck for maintaining the space."
In documents filed by the ACLU, the ACLU indicates that courts have looked into similar situations in the past. In 1997, a court ruled that even though the Colorado Rockies are a private entity, Coors Field is public land and sidewalk vendors could not be ticketed for trespassing.
"The adage 'if it looks like a duck, talks like a duck, quacks like a duck then it's a duck' applies to sidewalks," said ACLU of Nebraska Staff Attorney Joel Donahue pointing to a recent court ruling involving a march against child abuse that took place on a public sidewalk. "The area where our client was distributing his religious pamphlets is clearly a public sidewalk and all residents of Lincoln should expect that their First Amendment rights will be protected in that space."
"The US has more expression of religion in the public square than other democracies, a value which the city should be honoring," said Miller. "We hope to see charges dismissed and the sidewalk outside of the arena established as a public forum."