A blind woman has won the right to share the Gospel in a public park. Gail Blair, 63, was banned from a public park in Westerly, Rhode Island this past summer. The two-year ban was put in place after for her “illegal” act of handing out tracts of the Gospel of John.
On behalf of Blair, attorneys from First Liberty Institute filed a complaint of religious discrimination with the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights. Recently, her complaint was settled when the entity that banned her, the Westerly, Rhode Island Memorial and Library Association, agreed to reverse its ban.
“We commend the Westerly, Rhode Island Memorial and Library Association for resolving the case and recognizing our client’s religious liberty,” Jeremy Dys, an attorney with First Liberty, state. “Our client is thrilled that she can once again enter the park across the street from her home and talk with other visitors.”
The retired nurse and her husband moved into an apartment across the street from the park in 2014, partly in order to allow her easy access to the park. She would spend time in the park, offering small tracts containing the Gospel of John to passersby, and engage in conversation about Jesus Christ with those who were willing to talk to her.
The library association without evidence claimed she was “accosting” park visitors and littering, the latter charge related to the tracts she gave out that others supposedly left on the ground. In at least one instance, the police were called to enforce the ban. She was even warned by police that she could not attend a function in the park conducted by her own church.
A public park is a “quintessential public forum,” according to long-established Supreme Court precedent on the First Amendment, where free speech enjoys its highest protection. It is impermissible for government to regulate speech in such a forum where such regulation disfavors certain speech. Although the library association never admitted to religious animus against Ms. Blair’s religious speech, its behavior certainly pointed in that direction.
The settlement vindicates Blair’s rights, and allows her to continue to spread the good news of Jesus Christ in the park she loves.
–Metro Voice and wire services