Declaring that public property is private, New Jersey cops cited a group of Christian evangelists who were preaching the gospel in a park before seizing their cell phone camera to prevent them from recording the interaction.
Jersey City police told the Christians that it was illegal to record cops and were seizing the phone as evidence.
Police justified these illegal actions by claiming they were trying to prevent violent outbreaks.
According to Christian News:
Parker explained that the police also confiscated the mobile phone of one of the Christians who was recording the incident, contending that it was against the law for them to record police, and that the officers were taking the phone as part of an investigation.
In addition to engaging in open-air preaching and one-on-one witnessing, the Christians were also distributing Gospel literature to those inside the park. However, Jersey City police told them that they were not permitted to hand out tracts in the entire city without government permission.
“He kept asking me, ‘Do you know where you’re at? Do you know where you’re at?” Parker outlined.
When the supervising officer arrived on the scene to assess the situation, he agreed with Baker. Parker said that at this point, there were five to six law enforcement officials surrounding them.
When contacted, the Jersey City Police Department stated that because members of the public were upset with the message being proclaimed, the officers had a right to prevent potential violence. They stated that in such cases, police protocol is to disperse the crowd and silence the speaker.
The Christians were issued $250 citations for “breach of peace” and for handing out literature without a permit.
Christian News provided case law arguing that cops were acting unlawfully when they shut them down to prevent violence.
In the case of Terminiello v. Chicago (1949), which involved a man who was cited for “breach of the peace” due to the reactions of those who opposed his views, the court ruled:
“Accordingly a function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger. Speech is often provocative and challenging. It may strike at prejudices and preconceptions and have profound unsettling effects as it presses for acceptance of an idea. That is why freedom of speech, though not absolute, is nevertheless protected against censorship or punishment, unless shown likely to produce a clear and present danger of a serious substantive evil that rises far above public inconvenience, annoyance, or unrest.”
And as man of us already know, the U.S. Department of Justice issued guidelines with extensive case law stating that it is unlawful to seize a camera unless it is done under exigent circumstances, which is not the case here.
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