Copyright © August 17, 2014
August 8, 2014 Update on Nortfield, Minnesota Street Preaching Ministry
Click here for the website page which covers the trials and tribulations of the “No Small Stir” street preaching ministry
On August 8, 2014, Northfield News, the local newspaper of Northfield, Minnesota, published an article that, if true and depending upon the future actions of the Northfield police, could have resulted in a legal battle. The author has known, since high school, that one cannot depend upon secular news for accuracy or facts, and that, as to important religious, legal, and political matters, such outlets usually, in addition to sensationalizing, portray matters in ways which support their beliefs and philosophies. However, this article could not be ignored. Fortunately, as is explained below, the Northfield police, as in the past, acted very correctly and according to the law in regards to speech in the public forum. As a result, no litigation was required, the citizens of Northfield were spared the expense of costly court intervention, and the street preachers and others were protected as they engaged in speech in the public forum at Bridge Square Park.
The Northfield News article, “Protestors question Northfield’s permit process,” stated that a group was silently protesting war at Bridge Square Park, as they had on Saturdays for the last 13 years. However, they were soon approached by a Northfield police officer, who said there had been a complaint and that the group would have to move to “another public sidewalk,” off Bridge Square.
According to the article:
- The officer came as a result of a complaint from Anna Kochendorfer, who said she was from one of the groups with a permit to use Bridge Square and that the protestors would not leave when she asked them. The group did not leave, according to the article.
- City Administrator Tim Madigan sent a report to city councilors stating that both the Riverwalk Market Fair and the Vintage Band groups had obtained city permits to use Bridge Square on Saturday, “which gives them control of the area for their events.”
- Krin Finger, owner of the Rare Pair, has made use of the city’s Bridge Square reservation process to reserve the area from 1-5 p.m. every Saturday from now until the Defeat of Jesse James Days, with the plan to reserve the space again from DJJD to Christmas and beyond.
- She said she decided to reserve the space with a community event permit, in this case titled, “Take Back Bridge Square.”
The reasons that were attributed to Ms. Finger for seeking the permits every Saturday in order to keep street preachers from preaching in the park on Saturdays were lies. The article stated that she said they were not concerned about the communication of any group or persons other than the street preachers at Bridge Square. She, according to the article, stated that [the street preachers have] become a hindrance to people walking into the door, that the business owners and their customers felt threatened by what sounds like angry and aggressive behavior by these street preachers. Of course, there are government statutes that criminalize disorderly conduct, threatening people, hindering people on sidewalks, obstructing passageways, etc. Had the street preachers done anything in violation of a criminal ordinance, they, like any other lawbreaker, could and would have been cited by the police.
The article stated that Finger said, “We felt it was becoming more aggressive, and it was just a matter of time before this becomes offensive.” Ms. Finger, in fact, has told the street preachers that she is offended by their speech. The Supreme Court of the United States has made clear that Americans have no right to not be offended. Click here to go to the PDF of tract Street Preaching in America: Is It Legal? which briefly goes over the law of communicating in the public forum (public sidewalks and parks) and answers her, and other, objections.
The article stated that, “Finger said many downtown businesses, as well as the Northfield Downtown Development Corporation and the Northfield Area Chamber of Commerce, agreed with her obtaining the permit, and added that the city had been helpful throughout the process.” According to the article, she went on to say that she was prepared to approach the street preachers and tell them that they are not invited to her event, and that she will call the police if necessary and that they will be forced to leave Bridge Square.
The article stated that Police Chief Monte Nelson said there is no official ordinance his officers can enforce regarding the permits and public space. He added he is still working to figure out how to address situations like these, and he doesn’t have a clear answer yet. The article stated that Chief Nelson said, “The problem is, when someone reserves Bridge Square, they’re reserving that area,” he said. “It’s a public area. The million dollar question is, ‘Do they have the ability, if someone comes into some conflict, to say they want them moved across the street?’ That’s what we’re working to try to get a solution to do. There’s not a black and white answer. Does this [permit] mean that a private group can keep certain kinds of people out of Bridge Square, or prevent the presence of dogs, smokers, babies, or cell phones?” he asked. “How can the city turn over a public space to a private entity and then let the private entity make up rules that contradict the U.S. Constitution?” As will be seen below, Chief Nelson and the Northfield police department answered these according to American law. I am very impressed with Northfield handling of this matter.
On August 11, 2014, someone posted a response to the above article on Northfield News: Read that by clicking here. Also, many comments have been made concerning the original article. To read them, go to the article “Protestors question Northfield’s permit process” and scroll down. Many of the opinions in those polls reflect understanding of the public forum speech rights of all Americans and are far more correct than the ridiculous opinion attributed by the Northfield News article to Kimberly Smith, who, sadly, teaches constitutional law at Carleton College. Other opinions expressed therein, like that of the downtown business owners, are against freedom, intolerant, unlearned, and/or bigoted. People who understand the history of the First Amendment usually stand for the freedoms we enjoy in this nation. The following may be read in order to gain an understanding of how we got our First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The response of the street preachers to the article
After reading the article mentioned above, the first action of the preachers was to contact the Northfield city attorney, mayor, and city council. They were assured that the police understood the law and would act accordingly.
Next, on Saturday, August 16, 2014 the preachers went to Bridge Square Park and preached, as already planned. They waited for a community affair taking place in the park to be closed down, then preached. The police came and did their job. The preachers were allowed to preach without hindrance. Ms. Finger never came to ask the street preachers to leave.
Next, Pastor Jason Cooley, pastor of Old Paths Baptist Church of Northfield and one of the street preachers involved in this situation, was inspired to preach the following sermons:
- “The High Places – The Altars Of Witchcraft,” on sermonaudio.com (081714)(Click here for Youtube of this sermon.)
- “King Manasseh From Sorcery To Salvation,” on sermonaudio.com (081714)(Click here for Youtube of this sermon.)
Kim Finger and other business men and women, as reflected in the above article and as expressed to the street preachers while involved in their public forum calling, obviously hate this street preaching ministry. No doubt they are trying to figure out how to get rid of the street preachers. For example, see the following link for a discussion which occurred on the streets of Northfield during a street preaching session between Pastor Jason Cooley and Dave Shumway who is CEO of First National Bank of Northfield:
Should the situation change due to the hostility of a minority made up of a few influential citizens of Northfield, supplemental articles will immediately be published on this website and appropriate legal help who are on standby are prepared to come in to do all they can to make sure justice is done.
Grace Webb, the author of “Protestors question Northfield’s permit process,” the article quoted from above covers the cities of Northfield and Lonsdale, and writes about public safety. You can reach her at 645-1117.