Homophobic preachers arrested at Southern Decadence to sue for right to protest

NEW ORLEANS -- A group of homophobic preachers and activists who were arrested during Southern Decadence say they plan to sue the city for violating their constitutional right of free speech.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has taken up the case after the eight preachers and anti-gay activists were arrested Sept. 1 for violating the city's ordinance that prohibits people from loitering or congregating "on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter for the purpose of disseminating any social, political or religious message between the hours of sunset and sunrise."

A ninth anti-gay protester was arrested on suspicion of battery, resisting arrest and interfering with the police investigation.

Southern Decadence is a popular gay festival that brings more than 100,000 people to the French Quarter, and each year a handful of anti-gay preachers and activists gather on Bourbon Street to condemn the visitors with homophobic slurs and signs. One such sign, held this year, read: "God hates homos."

Marjorie Esman, executive director of the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, told Religion News Service that laws that prohibit political and religious speech are troubling. “This is a very problematic law,” she said.

Kristin Gisleson Palmer, the City Councilmember who sponsored the ordinance, defended the law as a safety issue and a way to protect residents and visitors in the French Quarter. She noted that protesters are allowed if they are "five steps" off Bourbon Street and away from the crowds that gather there nightly.

“This is really an issue of trying to protect public safety,” she told RNS.

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