The Complaint filed late last week in Tulare County Superior Court alleges that Mall management and security officers threatened to arrest John Vadnais, an elder at a local church, for sharing his faith with other mall visitors.
Until last January, Vadnais went to the Mall often to shop and eat. He also struck up conversations with other shoppers and discussed his Christian faith. Mall staff harassed and eventually summoned local police to intimidate Vadnais. Vadnais sought clarity from Mall management over several months in 2012 and was eventually told that talking to strangers at the Mall was off-limits if the subject was religion.
PJI won a groundbreaking ruling in 2010 against the Galleria Mall near Sacramento for its arrest of a youth pastor, Matthew Snatchko, who was sharing his faith with willing listeners. Itâ€™s not clear why the Visalia Mall seems to believe that decision, authored by the current Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court, does not apply to them.
Â â€œWeâ€™re seeing a disturbing trend,â€ noted PJI Senior Counsel Michael Peffer, the lead attorney in the new suit. â€œIn spite of more than 30 years of strong precedent, some malls still refuse to accept their legal obligations not to censor visitorsâ€™ speech based on its content.â€
Brad Dacus, president of Pacific Justice Institute, commented, â€œNo one should be threatened with arrest for peacefully communicating their beliefs to willing listeners. In California, large shopping malls are deemed the equivalent of public forums. It is both intolerant and illegal for the Visalia Mall to suppress speech just because it’s religious.â€