Former Police Officer Turned Preacher Arrested for Preaching at Monmouth Mall – Do You Accommodate or Brush Off Evangelists? [POLL]
Spreading the word of God is a calling many have; and they’ll use whatever means necessary to ply their vocation.
Just today I had another in a series of Jehovah Witnesses come to the door – not to preach, but to hand out literature.
I’m always accommodating. Take the literature, and bid them a good day. After all, I know how difficult it must be to go up against someone who simply views your calling as a boil on their ass.
And, by extension, to be at loggerheads with officials at a local mall, where passing out religious material becomes a source of contention.
David Wells of Ocean Township is a born-again Christian who said he just wanted to talk to his fellow citizens about faith. So he went to the (Monmouth) mall one recent Tuesday and started handing out leaflets that resembled trillion-dollar bills that ask the question: “Will you go to heaven when you die?”
Wells said. “That’s how our conversation would begin. If they weren’t interested in talking, I didn’t pursue it any more,”
But after Wells was observed by security distributing leaflets inside the mall to passing shoppers, he was asked to stop, but refused. And, according to the police report from Detective Lt. Lawrence Tyler, Eatontown police were summoned by security to the mall, and Wells was charged on Nov. 5 with defiant trespass.
Wells is a former Long Branch police officer who retired from the force in 1997.
Tyler said mall management explained to Wells that they would make reasonable accommodations for him to distribute his leaflets in accordance with the mall’s policy for soliciting on their property, but that he needed to stop distributing leaflets at that time.
Wells, according to the police report, disagreed with the mall management. He then refused a request to stop distributing, and refused to leave the property. At that time he was arrested for defiant trespass.
But Wells said he had a right to hand out leaflets in the mall, citing the 1994 New Jersey Supreme Court ruling “New Jersey Coalition Against War in the Middle East v. J.M.B. Realty Corporation.”
The case stemmed from Persian Gulf War protesters who requested permission to pass out leaflets at malls and were denied access.
The court ruled that malls had become the new gathering point of citizens, displacing downtown business districts and therefore must allow citizens to distribute leaflets both inside and outside malls.
Robert Williams, law professor at Rutgers University-Camden Campus said “Very specific to that case is that mall owners could impose reasonable time, place and manner restrictions,”
Monmouth Mall declined to comment on the incident. However, the code of conduct outlined on the mall’s website allows picketing, leafleting, soliciting, and/or petitioning with prior written consent from mall management.
Wells said he did not have consent from the mall.
Meanwhile, a petition to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, as well as officials of Vornado Realty, has been started on Wells’ behalf, asking the company and Monmouth Mall to allow free speech, and to “change their policies to comply with the protections of the United States Constitution and judicial case law banning discrimination.”
The petition was started by Robert Angelini, who believes Wells was within his rights to distribute leaflets. Angelini is a former police officer who retired from the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office in 2012.
In the petition, which is found on the website Change.org, Angelini states:
“Our interpretation of the manager’s explanation and the mall’s code of conduct makes a reasonable person believe, if you engage any person anywhere on mall property and utter anything ‘religious’; and/or hand out leaflets and that utterance brings a complaint from at least one person, you will be asked to leave the property and arrested if you don’t comply.
“Dave, standing up for our religious freedom and our Constitutional rights, was treated like a common criminal. His crime? Refusing to leave the mall for engaging people in conversation about God’s love and salvation.”
The petition had 378 signatures from across the country as of Tuesday evening.
His response, according to this, again, was that he was just trying to make conversation.
“I want to emphasize that I was not making any public spectacle: no signs, no loudness, no offensive language. I was simply trying to talk to people,” Wells told the Christian News Network. “If we’ve gotten to the point in the U.S. that we cannot talk to other people civilly, we’re in trouble.”
Now, not being a lawyer and merely a layman, the talking Wells was engaged in would be solicitation – at least in my view – and not mere conversation.
And, as I read the mall’s code of conduct: it allows picketing, leafleting, soliciting, and/or petitioning with prior written consent from mall management.
He admits he didn’t get that and refused a reasonable accommodation.
Surprising for someone who used to enforce laws for a living.
But I guess, maybe in his world, the Word trumps all.
Do you accommodate or brush off evangelists?