Houston Police send chilling message to preachers

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david allen

ANN ARBOR, MI – In three separate incidents beginning May 2011, David Allen, a Christian street preacher in Houston, Texas, was arrested, searched, jailed, and repeatedly denied his constitutional rights to free speech and free exercise of religion. He was never convicted on any of the charges.  To stop further harassment, TMLC announced it filed a federal lawsuit late last week on behalf of Allen.

TMLC’s Erin Mersino is lead attorney in the case.  She is assisted by Texas attorneys, Joseph R. Gutheinz of Friendship, Texas, and Houston attorney Jerad Wayne Najvar.  The City of Houston, its Police Chief, and three Houston Police Officers are named as defendants in the lawsuit.  Click here to read full complaint.

Allen’s three arrests occurred while he was preaching the Gospel message against the sins of abortion, homosexuality, and adultery on public sidewalks in Houston, Texas.  His preaching included donning a wool prayer shawl called a “Tallit” and sounding a ram’s horn known as a “Shofar”.

Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, commented:

“This case is primarily about the right of a Christian preacher, exercising his rights to free speech on the public sidewalks of Houston, to condemn what he believes are sins of our society.   The Supreme Court has held that public sidewalks are traditional public forums where speech cannot be restricted based on content.  So, as long as Mr. Allen is not violating any constitutionally valid laws, the police cannot arrest him or otherwise interfere with his right to free speech just because they don’t like his message or the way he is expressing it.”

Allen’s first arrest occurred in May 2011 while he was praying on a public sidewalk in front of the local Planned Parenthood facility.   Two Houston police officers arrested Allen, handcuffed and placed him in the back of the police squad car for approximately 45-60 minutes in suffocating heat without air conditioning.  Allen was removed from the squad car only after a third officer noted that he had been overcome by the heat.  Upon his removal, he collapsed to the ground and had to be rushed to a hospital for medical treatment.

The second arrest occurred in October 2011, while Allen was preaching on a Houston street corner.   The case was ultimately dismissed by the prosecutor for lack of evidence that a crime had been committed.

In January 2012, Allen’s third arrest occurred while he was preaching on a Houston street.  He and another preacher hoped to spread the Gospel to the crowd of spectators gathered for the Houston Marathon.  Allen was jailed for most of the day until his wife was able to obtain his release by posting a bond.  He was charged with failure to obey a lawful order and possession of a ‘staff’ – referring to his Shofar.  The case was dismissed when police failed to appear in court.

TMLC’s lawsuit cites repeated violations of David Allen’s constitutional First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion and free speech by officers of the Houston Police Department.  The lawsuit also claims Allen’s arrest and detainment without probable cause or lawful authority violated the Fourth Amendment protection against unlawful search and seizure.  TMLC’s lawsuit seeks to stop the Houston Police Department from future constitutional violations and harassment of David Allen as he exercises his right to preach the Gospel on the public sidewalks of the City.