Pro-Life Pastor Kicked Out of Portland, Oregon Park Sues for His Free Speech Rights

State   |   Micaiah Bilger   |   Oct 30, 2019   |   11:49AM   |   Portland, Oregon

A pro-life pastor who was kicked out of a Portland, Oregon park is suing the city for violating his free speech rights.

The Oregonian reports Mark Mayberry, of Riddle, Oregon, filed the lawsuit after the city banned him from the Tom McCall Waterfront Park in June.

On June 1, Mayberry said he was sharing the gospel and holding a sign defending unborn babies when a park ranger told him to leave the park. When he refused to go, citing his constitutional right to free speech, the officer wrote him a ticket and banned him from the park for 30 days, according to his lawsuit, KOIN News 6 reports.

Mayberry appealed the citation, and a city hearings officer threw it out, according to the report.

Now, the pro-life evangelist is accusing Portland of violating his civil rights in a federal lawsuit. He is represented by Ray Hacke of the Pacific Justice Institute, a pro-life legal organization. The lawsuit seeks $307,443 in damages, the local news reports.

According to the legal group, Mayberry was cited for violating a Portland city ordinance that prohibits the refusal to obey a park officer’s reasonable orders and a state statute that criminalizes harassment.

“The ordinance that Mayberry was cited under declares a park officer’s order to be unreasonable if it is aimed at constitutionally protected, speech-related conduct,” Hacke said. “Park officers are tasked with enforcing the law, which means they should know what the law is. They should certainly know better than to take actions aimed at chilling free speech.”

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Here’s more from The Oregonian:

The suit says Mayberry is a Christian evangelist and activist who travels around Oregon to call for the abolition and criminalization of abortion in the United States.

On June 1, he was at the park holding an anti-abortion sign, passing out pamphlets and “engaging passersby in conversations about abortion and the gospel,” according to his lawyer, Ray Hacke.

While Mayberry was expressing “views that were undoubtedly controversial to some, his speech and conduct were civil, peaceful, and by no means incendiary,” Hacke wrote in the suit.

A ranger ordered Mayberry to leave the park, and when he declined, he was ordered not to return for 30 days. He also was cited for harassment and failing to obey a park officer’s order.

Hearings Officer William Guzman threw out the citation when Mayberry appealed it, according to the report. Guzman said the officer was wrong in their “unconstitutional attempts to silence” Mayberry.

But, according to KOIN News:

The lawsuit says the City did not send a lawyer to argue its side of the case during a hearing July 11. The lawsuit says the auditor threw out the ticket. ”Despite being cleared to resume free speech activities at Waterfront Park without fear of penalty, Plaintiff has not returned to the park – largely due to well-founded fears that he will be cited again,” wrote Hacke.

This is not the first time the city has faced legal action for free speech violations. According to the Pacific Justice Institute, the city lost a similar case at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals against another open-air evangelist when it prohibited the city “from removing, or attempting to remove, street preachers from city parks—which are traditional public forums, where free speech is supposed to be at its freest—without probable cause.”

“Federal and state law both protect Christians’ rights to express their views publicly,” PJI president Brad Dacus said. “The City of Portland doesn’t get to shut them down just because some people find their views distasteful or offensive. The city auditor made the right call in exonerating Mark Mayberry, but the city should be forewarned: there will be consequences for the city’s unlawful actions toward him.”