James Lambert
It's a sad day in America when...
By James Lambert
July 4, 2013

It's a sad day in America when a U.S. citizen is threatened by local authorities with citation or even arrest because he is quietly holding two signs on a public sidewalk. The charge: California penal code 415 (disturbing the peace). The violation is defined as "unlawfully fighting in the public or challenging another person in a public place to fight" or "maliciously & willing disturbing another person by loud & unreasonable noise" or even "using offensive words in a public place which are inherently likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction." All this hullabaloo for quietly holding up two signs on a public sidewalk in front of a church. (For a picture of the signs, see attached).

I'm that U.S. citizen and I live in San Diego where this warning was issued to me a few weeks ago. I was reminded by the officer that if I do "it" again, I will be officially cited and possibly arrested for "disturbing the peace." Frankly, after reading the penal code (when I got access to the code's definition) I was definitely perplexed.

What makes this issue particularly appalling is that a Christian church initiated this civil action by issuing an official complaint with the police. They didn't like me displaying my two 2'x3' signs. I still don't know why they were so adamantly opposed to what I was doing.

I have a passion to encourage Christians to actively share their faith with their friends and relatives. During the school year, I also share the gospel in front of public high school across the southland. If there ever was a time we needed to share God's love – these are the times.

I even tried to communicate with the church. Several months prior I tried to call the church, leaving a message for someone to call me back. No return phone calls were made, so I dropped a letter by their office.

Several months later, there I was on two successive Sundays standing in front of the church with my signs. On the first occasion, a church pastor confronted me and angrily asked me to leave. I gave him my first name and even tried to shake his hand. He refused.

Since I wouldn't leave the public sidewalk, this pastor immediately called the police telling me that "the church owns the sidewalk." I did not stay long enough to wait for the police to show up that morning. However I later contacted the city's Legal Department in order to affirm or deny his statement. Within 24 hours I found out (through a paralegal with the city attorney's office) that the city (aka the public) "owned the sidewalk," not the church.

On the next successive Sunday I was again on the public sidewalk. This time a member of the church's 'security detail' appeared. They were upset about my appearance on the public sidewalk, and the police were called again. A representative from the church was even there when the police officer gave me a "warning" for "disturbing the peace." The officer asked for my ID and also asked me if I had ever been arrested. He went on by warning me if I did "this" again: I would be officially cited (and possibly arrested).

Fast forward several weeks and there, last Sunday, I was again on the same public sidewalk in front of the church ... peaceably holding up these same signs. Unfortunately the church called the police for the third time.

Within a short span of time two sheriffs appeared. As a friend of mine (Jim Tapscott) filmed the event, I was pleased and surprised to hear what the lead officer had to say that morning. The officer affirmed that what I was doing (holding two signs on a public sidewalk) was within the law. He confirmed my First Amendment freedom of speech. Certainly, this beat being arrested or cited for violating a law (California PC 415) that I was definitely not guilty of.

Last Sunday was a victory for the First Amendment and freedom of speech. These rights and freedoms (of speech, assembly and religion) found in the First Amendment also extend to the church I was standing in front of. They have freedom of religion which can be found in the same Amendment that benefited me last Sunday.

Knowing this I can only wonder why this church and its leadership chose to go after someone like me who was exercising the same American privilege that they experience each week as their ministers preach from the pulpit of their church.

© James Lambert


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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James Lambert

James Lambert has a broad business background. After receiving his undergraduate degree from Linfield College (McMinnville, Oregon), Lambert pursued a career in banking by working in various management capacities for Crocker Bank, San Diego Trust & Savings Bank and First Interstate Bank (between 1973 and 1995). By 1990 Lambert received his Master in Business Administration from National University (San Diego). For 3 years, Lambert also taught Finance at Mira Costa Community College... (more)


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