If you've ever been on Bourbon Street in New Orleans during a big festival, after the Sugar Bowl, during Mardi Gras, or just some Tuesday night when, for like no reason, the street is packed with wandering-eyed couples from Missouri, you've seen the inevitable cluster of Christians huddling around a tall cross and bearing signs that proclaim pleasantries such as, "You'll all burn in Hell!" while the more loquacious of their number screams into a megaphone. Until last year, it was incumbent upon the hedonistic pedestrian to ignore these street preachers, but then New Orleans passed an ordinance that restricted such demonstrations. Now, after a recent series of preaching arrests during Southern Decadence, a New Orleans pastor is suing to block the city ordinance that he claims sets unconstitutional limits on free speech, because what we're really missing from a fun night wasted on Bourbon is the chance to argue about dinosaurs with bigoted Evangelical Christians from Arkansas (I'm sure Arkansas is an otherwise wonderful place full of wonderful, intelligent people).
Pastor Paul Gros filed a federal lawsuit on Thursday claiming that a New Orleans city ordinance making it a crime to "loiter or congregate on Bourbon Street for the purpose of disseminating any social, political or religious message between the hours of sunset and sunrise" has infringed upon his and other religiously aggressive individuals' right to make hate screeds in front of large groups of shirtless men. More or less. Violating the ordinance, which was passed last October, is a misdemeanor punishable by six months in jail and a $500 fine. Gros' lawsuit names New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Police Superintendent Ronald Serpas and the city council's members as defendants.
Back on May 15, Gros had set up camp on Bourbon Street with his wife and some friends who just couldn't find impoverished children to inoculate or famished, poverty-stricken people in need of a hot meal, and so decided that going to New Orleans to scream at the gays was the next best act of Christian charity that they could perform. Before the group really got revved up, however, police told them in no uncertain terms to leave, which they did without being arrested. On September 1, however, preachers and activists were arrested during Decadence for allegedly yelling gay slurs and not knocking it the fuck off when mounted police showed up and told them to leave amid much public rejoicing.
While it's tempting to draw a comparison between the Westboro Baptist Church (whose hateful funeral-crashing has been ruled constitutional) and Bourbon Street preachers, the New Orleans ordinance is more akin to a quality of life ordinance, like a noise ordinance or the fine for swearing on the boardwalk in Virginia Beach. Besides, all any of these preachers had to do to keep themselves out of central lockup was turn off the megaphone (the real source of the city's frustration with these public decries) and step a few feet out of the middle of the street, so their arrest isn't really as much a free speech issue as an ambulatory intransigence issue.
Bourbon Street ‘no preaching' law challenged [CBS News]