Charges dismissed against brothers arrested
while distributing Gospel tracts in N.C. city
By Patrick Jean, The Layman, Dispute continues over understanding of law, July 17, 2008
Charges have been dismissed against two brothers who were arrested last month while distributing Biblical literature on a public square in Hickory, N.C.
Jesse Boyd, 32, and his brother Matthew, 29, were charged with second-degree trespassing. They were arrested June 27 while distributing Gospel tracts at Hickory Alive!, a summertime entertainment series sponsored by the Hickory Jaycees with the approval of the Hickory City Council. The free series takes place on Union Square, a public area in downtown Hickory.
Jesse told the Hickory Daily Record that three Hickory police officers told three friends of his to stop handing out Biblical literature. He said he approached the police and began videotaping the encounter on his cell phone, telling them that the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed his right to distribute religious material on public property and asking them what law was being broken. He told the Record that’s when he was arrested and handed the phone to his brother, who continued taping the arrest before he, too, was taken into custody.
The entire incident, including the videos, was posted on Jesse’s blog
Jesse is the president and founder of Full Proof Gospel Ministries of Conover, N.C., which describes itself on its Web site as “a missions organization committed to the public proclamation of the Gospel.” He said his brother Matthew is an elder at New Testament Christian Fellowship, a start-up church in Hickory.
The brothers retained an attorney through the Christian Law Association of Seminole, Fla. According to its Web site, the organization provides “free legal assistance to Bible-believing churches and Christians who are experiencing legal difficulty in practicing their religious faith because of governmental regulation, intrusion or prohibition of one form or another.”
The Hickory Police Department fielded phone calls from people angry about the arrests. It launched an administrative investigation “to gather all the facts to clear up the incident,” Police Chief Tom Adkins told the Record. “I have spoken to several individuals who have called and assured them that this is a matter that we are looking at closely, and we are confident that we can resolve this issue.”
The Christian Action League of North Carolina publicized the incident on its Web site last week. It reported that the Gibbs Law Firm of Seminole, Fla., general counsel for the Christian Law Association, sent a letter July 1 to the city of Hickory, its police department and the Hickory Jaycees. The letter asked that the charges be dismissed and that the city and Jaycees not interfere with the Boyds’ constitutional right to distribute religious literature at future events.
The Boyds distributed their Gospel tracts again at Hickory Alive! on July 4 and 11 without incident, both Jesse’s blog and the Record reported. On Wednesday, Hickory issued a two-paragraph statement announcing that the district attorney’s office had dismissed all criminal charges against the Boyds.
The statement included the following quote from Adkins: “In this case, Hickory police officers were challenged to decide if those constitutional rights [to freedom of speech and of religion] interfered with a permitted event on Union Square. I believe our officers handled the situation appropriately to maintain the peace. However, continued discussion in our community is needed to ensure the rights of those delivering a message and those receiving the message in a public place are both properly protected.”
Jesse Boyd is on a mission trip to the western United States until mid-August, and had the statement read to him by phone. He told The Layman that Adkins’ comments are “very disconcerting to me, because if a police chief can imply that his officers were in the right when they arrested us for trespassing on public property, then we’ve got a real issue with a police department that doesn’t understand the law.”
His brother Matthew agreed. “In one light, I’m thankful that the charges were dropped,” he told WCCB-TV in Charlotte, N.C. “In another light, I’m very disturbed by the comments that were made by the chief of police. That tells me he has no understanding, nor the city of Hickory, the police department of Hickory, has no understanding of the Constitution and what rights it affords us. If we were ‘disturbing the peace,’ number one, we should have been charged with that. Number two, everyone with us should have been arrested, and that wasn’t the case.”
The Boyds also took issue with the following comment from unnamed Hickory officials in the city’s statement: “The overriding issues center on the need to protect the constitutional rights of citizens, to include freedom of speech and of religion, while taking into account the expression of these rights cannot impede the rights of others.” “If they don’t understand the law, and it was ‘right’ for them to do what they did to us, then they can do it again to other Christians,” Jesse Boyd told The Layman. “That really concerns me.”
“Who’s next?” Matthew Boyd told WCCB-TV. “Who else is going to be arrested for simply handing out tracts or sharing their faith on a public square?”
Jesse Boyd said he wants verification that the charges have been dropped, “and they’ve been dropped in such a way that it’s as if it never happened.” He wants the arrest records expunged, and he said he and Matthew continue to weigh their legal options.
The brothers’ lawyer, Steve Kluth, declined to comment.