Joey Garrison offered up an interesting little article this morning in the City Paper about the upcoming legislation in the Metro Council to restrict the use of amplification systems (bullhorns and other portable PA equipment) along public right of ways downtown. Apparently groups like Pinpoint Evangelism (more known for antagonizing college students on-campus) have been showing up during large events like the CMA Fest and shouting down God’s wrath upon those who would spend their time and money worshipping country music stars instead of the almighty. The touristas who seem to have a powerful voice in city politics have typically attempted to legislate these preachers out of existence through the proposed law which would take the bullhorns out of their hands and instead force them to rely on the power of their own personal pipes.
I sympathize with those who feel like these so-called evangelists (who spend more time on condemnation than actually sharing the “evangel”, that is, the Good News of Jesus Christ) intrude upon the rights of those attending these events. Frankly there are times when I feel like these groups (and even more so the Fred Phelps family) get in the way of the cause of Christ, creating caricatures of Christians that stray far from Christ’s call to love God and neighbor. While the long and strange trip of faith that I’ve taken helps me to understand the motivation behind those who would yell and scream, I rarely find people to be responsive and it seems to me to serve the interest of the screamer’s self righteous identity more than being a loving attempt to help others connect with the living God. People visiting our town should be able to visit and have a good time without being subject to being called “whores of Babylon,” even if they are straight off the plane from Persia. The screaming preachers are indeed a nuisance, and on the surface it makes sense to take their bullhorns away.
And yet, the same rights that allow these events to setup stages and offer street performances (sometimes involving language from artists that is marginally family friendly) protect the right of these street preachers to spew their harsh accusations. On the surface it makes sense to limit the ability of these folks to express themselves, but that limitation comes with unintended consequences, such as limiting the ability of a group focused on an issue of justice to speak truth to power en masse. The same law that restricts PA equipment would likewise keep an up and coming rap artist from sharing his talent on the streets for all to hear. Most importantly, writing a law that is broad enough to not seem to be an exclusive attack on religious speech (a clearly unconstitutional act) AND isn’t a restriction on personal expression (likewise unconstitutional) is difficult at best, an in my opinion next to impossible, leaving itself wide open to legal challenges by the Christian right and fraught with unintended consequences on the rights of others to express their opinions as well.
That is the rub of our constitution. Both the Whores of Babylon and those who would oppose them have the same set of rights. The same laws that allow Ce Lo Green to issue a song title “@#$% You” (definitely a catchy tune for sure) allow the street preachers to stand across from him and say in religious language that he’s surely @#$%ed if he doesn’t turn to Jesus. Such is the consequence of living in a free society with a Bill of Rights that assures folks freedom to speak. We (unfortunately at times) have to listen to those who we wish would go away. To restrict those rights for some can only lead us down a slippery slope of censorship that our forefathers and mothers fought to preserve.