New Orleans, Bourbon Street and Street Preaching: A Case of Religious Persecution?

New Orleans, Bourbon Street and Street Preaching: A Case of Religious Persecution? September 23, 2012

According to several news reports I have read, the City of New Orleans and its police department are attempting to stop street preaching on Bourbon Street after dark. Some preachers have been arrested, but a judge has slapped an injunction on the city to stop it from enforcing the ordinance until a hearing can be held on the preachers’ claim that their freedom of speech is being abridged.

Here is what one GLBT community leader said about preaching on Bourbon Street: “I certainly have issues with their argument. I don’t think that freedom of speech should trump my right to life, libery and the pursuit of happiness,” said Mary Griggs, Director of the Lesbian and Gay Community Center of New Orleans. Griggs says religious groups with bullhorns go against the spirit of Bourbon Street.”

They certainly do. Which is exactly why they should be there.

Let me confess that, on a few occasions, I have walked down the middle of Bourbon Street after dark. I was attending a convention of religion scholars held at large hotels on Canal Street which is one of the boundaries of the French Quarter. Walking on Bourbon Street is the most natural thing to do because many of the best restaurants are there–but mixed in with some of the most decadent establishments in America and perhaps the world.

Here is what I have observed on  Bourbon Street: Doors wide open to strip clubs where anyone walking down the street (it’s a pedestrian zone) can hardly avoid seeing naked dancers. Children being dragged along by their parents past such establishments, the children staring into them with their mouths open and eyes wide. (What are those parents thinking?) Young men and women selling their bodies on the sidewalks. Crowds of drunken people pushing and shoving, vomiting, screaming and throwing things. People of all ages break dancing and playing musical instruments for money, people selling food of all kinds, pornography shops with their doors and windows wide open, “card shops” displaying pornographic pictures–right inside the front door so that you see them from the sidewalk.

The place is unbelievably loud, smelly, disgusting, revolting, crowded. You can’t walk more than a few yards without some guy trying to drag you into a peep show or strip club. Men and women baring their breasts and showing their genitals (from on balconies of hotels and below looking up). People throwing all kinds of objects around in the crowd.

All that was seen on normal Friday and Saturday nights–without any special parade or festivals happening.

Now, I ask, how could a few street preachers be disruptive or in any way interfere with anyone doing anything there? They can’t. So far as I have been able to tell from the articles I have read, they were not physically accosting anyone. Sure, they were loud, but so is everything on Bourbon Street! (Except the several upscale Cajun and Creole restaurants.)

From what I have read, this ordinance and the attempt to enforce it by arresting peaceful street preachers is nothing other than religious persecution. They can’t possibly be any louder than the screaming, yelling, hawking, barking drunken men and women lurching down the street, leaning over the hotel balconies, dancing, playing musical instruments, etc., all up and down the ten blocks or so of the pedestrian zone.

What ought to be illegal is minors on Bourbon Street–especially after dark.

I hope Christians of all denominations will see the threat to religious freedom inherent in this ordinance and its enforcement and write to the mayor and city council persons. Let’s hope and pray that a judge rules the ordinance unconstitutional and allows the street preachers to return to their activities.

I’m not supporting all the tactics used by street preachers. And I’m not opposing reasonable city ordinances regulating noise levels in public. My point is that any ordinance aimed at street preaching on Bourbon Street is so obviously discriminatory against religious speech because of the nature of the activities there–all loud, obnoxious, confrontational, boisterous in the extreme, obscene, etc., etc. (Not everything on Bourbon Street is that, but the general atmosphere is that.)

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