I’m not one that is much for symbols, especially when it comes to representing the Christian Faith, but I do understand the representation. Apparently though, there are some North Carolina police officers that believe a Christian who openly carries a 3 pound, five foot cross out in public is wielding a “dangerous weapon!” Check out the video below.
Christian News reports:
Brothers Jesse and Matthew Boyd, along with friend Kent Blalock, attended the 32nd annual Historic Morganton Festival on Saturday to open-air preach, distribute Gospel literature and hold Scripture-based signs as a witness to attendees. Matthew carried a small 3-pound wooden cross that bears the question “Are You Ready?” and folds away when not in use.
The men state that even before they attended the event, they became aware that there could be problems in light of the festival rules, which barred free speech activity on the streets. In turn, Jesse contacted City Attorney Louis Vinay to express concern, sending him a compilation of relevant case law that protected free speech activity at public events.
Most notably, the evangelists–and anyone else who wished to engage in free speech–would have been required to stand in a “free speech zone,” which was located two blocks outside of the event and away from the crowds.
According to the Boyds and Mr. Blalock, the festival organizer said it was against the rules for Christians to hold signs and distribute tracts within the festival. There was a “free speech zone” established for the festival. Seriously, since when does there have to be a “free speech zone” established on public property? Remember this is taking place on a public street, paid for with the Boyds and Blalocks tax dollars. They have every right to be there and to do what they were doing.
“It was just very politely stated to her that we were not going to stop, and that the rules did not supersede our rights as American citizens under the Constitution,” Matthew explained. “We’re on a public street; you can’t just make [your own] rules.”
The organizer was not going to have any of this exercise of freedom and so she brought back a man that identified himself as the chief of police.
“The chief then focused in on the cross, saying that it was a violation of the [city’s] sign ordinance, and we just kind of went back and forth, … [explaining that] the language of the ordinance did not apply here,” Matthew recalled, as Jesse noted that the law pertained to poles and other objects used to hoist signs that could be sharp or injurious.
Matthew then said “He kept referring to [the cross] as a dangerous weapon or a possible dangerous weapon.”
He then informed the officer that not only was the cross, spiritually speaking, a deadly weapon in terms of dealing with sin and the devil, but he then appealed to reason. “I said to the chief, ‘Sir, you know we’re out here peacefully. Our entire approach is peaceful, and just because something could be used as a deadly weapon doesn’t mean it is,'” Jesse explained. “I said, ‘That walkie-talkie attached to your shirt could be a deadly weapon if you swung it and hit somebody in the head with it.'”
It seems that this was targeting the brothers with the cross. Other attendees who were carrying wooden samurai swords and other object were not harassed. “We train with these at my Aikido club, and they are deadly weapons,” Jesse noted. “There were people with light sabers and plastic swords and all kinds of things that could have been a deadly weapon, and yet the police chose to zero in on this ‘Are You Ready’ cross.”
The organizer told them they would have to stop passing out tracts and holding their signs or leave the event all together as police conferenced with each other. After a half hour of convening the police returned and told the evangelists that the cross had to go and warned them it was their last chance.
They finally agreed to put the cross away, but continued in their endeavors.
In the end, it seems that the police picking and choosing in threatening the men with arrest over a cross when others were walking around with wooden samurai swords. The cross was no more a dangerous weapon than the man holding it was. Anyone seeing the pictures above should be able to agree with that.
I contacted Louis Vinay, the City of Morganton attorney, and he informed me that the men were not stopped from passing out pamphlets and speaking to people. He also agreed with me that the police were not there to enforce the rules of the festival, but only the law.
Mr. Vinay said that Morgan has lots of churches and is a very “Christian” city, which I have no doubt is the case since I live just miles away from Morganton. He also said the cross was somehow “collapsible,” meaning that it could be folded up and made much smaller to carry.
I did tell Mr. Vinay that I appreciated the fact that the officers did not stop the men from passing out the literature and speaking to people, but did want to understand why the officers threatened them with arrest for a cross and did not do the same to festival attenders with wooden samurai swords. Vinay told Freedom Outpost that he would look into that as he was unaware of these at the event.
Vinay also told Freedom Outpost that the men were very polite and conducted themselves appropriately.
No one was threatened and no one was hurt by the cross or the samurai swords. It appears that the event organizer, Sharon Jablonski had a problem with Christians being on the scene, because she wanted them to just go away; free speech, cross and all.
Calls to the Morganton Police Department have gone unanswered as of the publication of this article. Sharon Jablonski was also unavailable and historic Morganton Festival simply replied, “We have no comment.”
If you wish to contact the event organizer, here is the website and contact information:
Historic Morganton Festival, Inc.
P.O. Box 1472
Morganton, North Carolina 28680 Phone: (828) 438-5252Fax: (828) 432-2518Email: [email protected]
UPDATE: Police Chief Mark Tolbert returned my call and cited the particular ordinance that he believes the men were in violation of. According to Tolbert, Section 6-2046, Item C-3 of Morganton’s ordinances reads:
“To Carry or possess any banner, poster, sign or other similar device which is made from or has a component made from a club, police baton, night stick, sharp object, dangerous weapon or other material that could be used as a dangerous weapon. Any length of metal, lumber, wood or similar materials for the purpose of displaying a sign, poster, plaque or notice shall be construed to be a dangerous weapon, unless such weapon is made of of material that is no larger than 3/8 x 2 inches or made of PVC pipe or similar light plastic material.”
It sounds to me like there is a wide assumption as to what a “dangerous weapon” is, according to this ordinance. In fact, if you wear a charm that is made of any of the above material and is longer than 2 inches and thicker than 3/8 inches with a message on it, you are in violation of the ordinance. Some may say that is silly, but please point out how it is not in violation. In addition, it would be much easier to wield a 2 inch weapon than a five foot cross. Personally, it sounds like the ordinance should be completely rewritten.
Furthermore, when I questioned Police Chief Tolbert about when he confronted the men, I asked him, “Did you see the men with the cross before Ms. Jablonski approached you?” He answered that they did see the men with the cross.
When I asked, “Why did you not approach them at that time if they were in violation of the ordinance?” Chief Tolbert proceeded to tell me that they did speak to the men about the cross and the ordinance, but I pointed out that conversation happened after Ms. Jablonski approached Chief Tolbert. I was then referred to Louis Vinay, the city attorney, whom I had spoken to earlier. In other words, it appears that the Morganton police were not interested in enforcing the ordinance until one person, Ms. Jablonski, made a fuss about it. Otherwise, they seemed to be unconcerned.
Tim Brown is the Editor of Freedom Outpost and a regular contributor to The D.C. Clothesline.