Williamsburg, VA --- Repent America (RA) is denouncing a proposal aimed at street preachers that is currently being considered by the City Council of Williamsburg, Virginia. Under the proposed measure, any type of free speech would be prohibited in Merchants Square and the Colonial Williamsburg Historic Area, and instead, those who wish to engage in constitutionally-protected activity would be secluded to specified "free speech zones."
The proposed amendments to city ordinance 12-05 were submitted as a result of complaints from businesses in Merchants Square that expressed their dislike of preaching outside their establishments. In an article published in the Virginia Gazette on March 13, 2012, a restaurateur remarked, "People want to enjoy their dinner and talk with their friends. They aren't here to hear someone's opinions about religion." Another business owner, Mary Ellen Power, claimed that the preachers are "self-righteous" and stated that she didn't like some of the statements that they have purportedly made about women's issues and homosexuality.
Therefore, the city is considering a measure that would move speakers far away from the businesses to two "presentation areas" on the outskirts of Merchants Square and the Colonial Williamsburg Historic Area. Even while standing in these zones, speech may not take place after 9 p.m. and must not be heard more than 50 feet away, although everyday sounds such as the ringing of cell phones, the rumbling of motorcycles and the squeal of a car alarm can be heard at this distance. Consequently, it would be impossible to preach without violating the ordinance, and the public proclamation of the Gospel would thereby be shut down.
On Tuesday, March 27th, RA sent a 6-page letter to Williamsburg Mayor Clyde Haulman, members of City Council and City Attorney Christina Shelton expressing its disgust with the proposed measure and vowing to ensure its ultimate defeat. Please click here to read the letter in its entirety.
"Williamsburg is under attack from within," Repent America director Michael Marcavage stated. "The mere proposal of such a draconian measure in one of the nation's most historical heartlands of liberty is appalling and cuts against the very freedom that our forefathers fought to establish and preserve. If the Williamsburg City Council passes this anti-American ordinance, it must be defied. The Gospel must not be silenced, but heralded through the streets and shouted from the rooftops. The traitors to liberty who vote for this dastardly ordinance should have their own 'free speech zone' behind bars," he declared.
In 2007, Marcavage was arrested in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania while preaching on a public sidewalk to those waiting in line to see the Liberty Bell for refusing to relocate to a "free speech zone" as park rangers perceived that some visitors were offended. After being placed on federal probation for a year, being fined hundreds of dollars and working for two years toward vindication in the courts, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously overturned Marcavage's convictions, stating that park rangers had no right to attempt to relocate him. The 52-page ruling concluded, "[W]e hold that the government impermissibly infringed Marcavage's First Amendment right to free speech."
In 2010, Marcavage challenged a municipal noise ordinance in Winchester, Virginia, after being shut down by police due to a single complaint from an individual who claimed that he was "uncomfortable" with Marcavage's preaching. Last year, a federal judge forced the city to adjust its statute to protect freedom of speech.
Williamsburg's pending ordinance, however, is even more damaging and concerning, especially considering its heritage. According to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation website, "For 81 formative years, from 1699 to 1780, Williamsburg was the political, cultural, and educational center of what was then the largest, most populous, and most influential of the American colonies. It was here that the fundamental concepts of our republic --- responsible leadership, a sense of public service, self-government, and individual liberty --- were nurtured under the leadership of patriots such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, George Mason, and Peyton Randolph."
Additionally, beginning in the 1920's, a minister named Dr. William Archer Rutherford Goodwin devoted his life to ensuring that the historicity of the city would be preserved, and is responsible for what remains of Williamsburg's colonial roots. Therefore, it is ironic that the Williamsburg City Council now seeks to restrict freedom of speech, especially the speech of preachers and evangelists.
"The right to freely and publicly speak continues to be dismantled, not only by local officials, but also by the federal government," Marcavage stated. "Never before in our nation's history have we seen such sweeping legislation designed to silence dissenting and unpopular speech as under the Obama administration, from the passage of the federal 'hate crimes' bill to the Indefinite Detention Bill and the recent signing of the Trespass Bill," he added. "Our government is corrupt to its core, the people are oppressed, and the blessings of liberty will soon be no more. While God has been patient and longsuffering as the American people remain in rebellion against His Law, He has warned that there is a day coming when the wicked shall be turned into Hell and all the nations that forget God. May we all be humbled and come trembling before His throne before it is too late," Marcavage concluded.