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Street preacher sues City of Fort Worth over noise ordinance

After twice being prohibited from using a megaphone in a public forum, the street preacher is claiming the ordinance is violating his freedom of speech.

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FORT WORTH, Texas — A street preacher is suing the City of Fort Worth, claiming his free speech rights were violated by the city’s noise ordinance preventing him for using a megaphone in a public forum. 

There were two separate incidents were Fort Worth police prevented the preacher, Michael Cody Torres, from using the megaphone in June of last year, the second time resulting in his arrest. 

The complaint filed by Torres states he is seeking to invalidate or enjoin the city’s noise ordinance and also seek monetary relief for what he argues was the infringement of his rights guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. 

Fort Worth’s noise ordinance states “[t]he use of a bullhorn, loudspeaker or other amplification is prohibited in the public right-of-way and on City of Fort Worth property,” with few exceptions, such as use by a public safety official or by someone with an outdoor event permit. 

The suit states Torres has regularly preached in the public areas of the Fort Worth Stockyards for the past two years on weekend nights, during public events and other public demonstrations, using amplification many times without a permit before he was cited twice last June. 

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Torres came to believe the noise ordinance was unconstitutional due to a previous written exchange between street preacher Terry Fish and Fort Worth City Attorney Sarah Fullenwider in 2017, the suit details. In February 2018, an assistant city attorney ensured Fish’s attorneys the city would not be enforcing the noise amplification provision of the ordinance and that they planned to amend the ordinance, removing the ban on amplification. 

But the ordinance has not yet been amended, the suit states. 

At the second event where Torres was arrested, he was speaking at a Pride event at the Fort Worth Stockyards, the suit states, where officers told him he could not use the sound amplifier because the event was not a political gathering. He then told the officer he used sound amplification at the stockyards regularly without a permit. 

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“[S]hortly after Plaintiff began to preach, a directed response unit swept in and without question or hesitation seized Plaintiff and his property, arrested him, and took him to jail,” the suit reads. 

The suit states that this arrest had a chilling effect on Torres’ free speech and constituted content-based regulation of his speech, and that the city’s actions to constrain his ability to exercise his First Amendment rights are overbroad and not narrowly tailored to accomplish any compelling interest of the city’s. 

Causes of action listed in the suit include the violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments, claiming the ordinance discriminates against speech because of its content and viewpoint, and that the sound ordinance itself violated these amendments and is invalid. 

“The First Amendment guarantees the right of speakers to have ample opportunity to reach their intended audience and win their attention,” the suit states. 

The suit also argues the ordinance is unconstitutionally vague as it fails to provide a timeframe for permit application.

“Without a timeframe for submitting an application for a permit or a timeframe by which permits must be granted or denied, this code is vague and incomprehensible and allows for arbitrary responses or non-responses,” the suit reads.



story by The Texas Tribune Source link

After twice being prohibited from using a megaphone in a public forum, the street preacher is claiming the ordinance is violating his freedom of speech.

FORT WORTH, Texas — A street preacher is suing the City of Fort Worth, claiming his free speech rights were violated by the city’s noise ordinance preventing him for using a megaphone in a public forum. 

There were two separate incidents were Fort Worth police prevented the preacher, Michael Cody Torres, from using the megaphone in June of last year, the second time resulting in his arrest. 

The complaint filed by Torres states he is seeking to invalidate or enjoin the city’s noise ordinance and also seek monetary relief for what he argues was the infringement of his rights guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. 

Fort Worth’s noise ordinance states “[t]he use of a bullhorn, loudspeaker or other amplification is prohibited in the public right-of-way and on City of Fort Worth property,” with few exceptions, such as use by a public safety official or by someone with an outdoor event permit. 

The suit states Torres has regularly preached in the public areas of the Fort Worth Stockyards for the past two years on weekend nights, during public events and other public demonstrations, using amplification many times without a permit before he was cited twice last June. 

Torres came to believe the noise ordinance was unconstitutional due to a previous written exchange between street preacher Terry Fish and Fort Worth City Attorney Sarah Fullenwider in 2017, the suit details. In February 2018, an assistant city attorney ensured Fish’s attorneys the city would not be enforcing the noise amplification provision of the ordinance and that they planned to amend the ordinance, removing the ban on amplification. 

But the ordinance has not yet been amended, the suit states. 

At the second event where Torres was arrested, he was speaking at a Pride event at the Fort Worth Stockyards, the suit states, where officers told him he could not use the sound amplifier because the event was not a political gathering. He then told the officer he used sound amplification at the stockyards regularly without a permit. 

“[S]hortly after Plaintiff began to preach, a directed response unit swept in and without question or hesitation seized Plaintiff and his property, arrested him, and took him to jail,” the suit reads. 

The suit states that this arrest had a chilling effect on Torres’ free speech and constituted content-based regulation of his speech, and that the city’s actions to constrain his ability to exercise his First Amendment rights are overbroad and not narrowly tailored to accomplish any compelling interest of the city’s. 

Causes of action listed in the suit include the violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments, claiming the ordinance discriminates against speech because of its content and viewpoint, and that the sound ordinance itself violated these amendments and is invalid. 

“The First Amendment guarantees the right of speakers to have ample opportunity to reach their intended audience and win their attention,” the suit states. 

The suit also argues the ordinance is unconstitutionally vague as it fails to provide a timeframe for permit application.

“Without a timeframe for submitting an application for a permit or a timeframe by which permits must be granted or denied, this code is vague and incomprehensible and allows for arbitrary responses or non-responses,” the suit reads.



story by The Texas Tribune Source link

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