By Joseph C. DeCaro, Worthy News US Correspondent
SAN ANTONIO (Worthy News)-- A city ordinance to stop the distribution of commercial leaflets and handbills now threatens the freedoms of both speech and religion.
Liberty Institute and the American Center for Law and Justice filed a federal lawsuit against the city of San Antonio that challenged the way police officers are applying part of the city municipal code.
"They are misapplying the ordinance to stop our clients from expressing their faith," said ACLJ attorney Wesley Southerland. " We don't have a problem with the ordinance, just the way they are applying it. This goes to the heart of First Amendment principles."
Jose Muniz, a full-time minister with Jesus Crew Street Ministries, was repeatedly threatened with arrest by San Antonio police for handing-out Bible tracts, supposedly violating Section 21-4 of the city municipal code. However, the ordinance only prohibits handbills issued in public areas for commercial or business interests.
The ordinance states: "This section is not intended to prevent the lawful distribution of anything other than commercial and business advertising."
"It is obvious when reading the city code that the ordinance does not prohibit Mr. Muniz, or anyone from distributing Gospel tracts," said Southerland. "In fact, it's quite clear that it permits them to do so."
Bible college grad Todd Leibovitz was arrested by a San Antonio police officer for sharing his faith on a public sidewalk; Leibovitz was held for 16 hours and cited for "peddling without a license," but criminal charges were later dropped.
"This is America," said Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of Liberty Institute. "No citizen should be threatened for engaging in free speech in public. This was a flagrant violation of the Constitution."