An Arkansas street preacher was arrested recently, nearly one year after voicing his beliefs on the sidewalk, a move that could have chilling implications for First Amendment rights in the state.
Batesville resident Jeremy Anders says he felt called to testify while driving through the city on June 5 of last year.
Anders, a former homosexual who has renounced the lifestyle and now vehemently preaches against it, posted himself on a downtown sidewalk and began speaking about local businesses’ engagement with LGBT causes.
Many of the downtown businesses, including Stella’s Brick Oven, the restaurant Anders was preaching in front of, were closed on June 5, 2022 — a Sunday.
A police report taken that night, after Anders had already left the area, lists Stella’s owner as the complainant. She told police Anders started posting “aggressive videos” on the business’ Facebook page after she placed a “safe place” sticker on the window, and quoted Anders as saying, “people like you should burn in hell.”
Also included as a witness in the report is Shannon Hix, founder of “Batesville PRIDE,” an LGBT organization in the city.
The preaching and subsequent police response took place less than a week before Hix’s group’s annual “PRIDEfest” was set to begin.
While saying his nightly prayers that same evening, Anders was visited by officers from the Batesville Police Department, who informed him of the decision and ordered him not to return to the business.
Although Anders said he never returned to Stella’s, the issue appears to have been quickly escalated by authorities without his knowledge.
On June 7, a day after the police report was initially filed, a Batesville police investigator signed a probable cause affidavit for Anders’ actions in front of Stella’s and social media posts made by the street preacher, calling the business “gay pride supporters” and “homosexual enablers.” An arrest warrant was filed three days later, claiming there were reasonable grounds for believing Anders committed misdemeanor harassment.
For nearly a year, Anders continued with his life and mission, unaware he was wanted by police.
While driving to work on April 20, Anders was blindsided. The street preacher was pulled over and arrested on the outstanding harassment warrant. He was kept in jail for over 24 hours and now faces a June 14 court date.
Fortunately for Anders, a member of a major Christian organization has taken up his case.
“Everything that they accused him of doing is protected speech and expression under the First Amendment,” Bob Ballinger, director of law and policy at the National Association of Christian Lawmakers, told The Western Journal.
“There is nothing that he’s done that is not protected speech.”
It looks like Ballinger is right when it comes to the case against Anders.
There’s a good reason the Founding Fathers didn’t put a litmus test in the First Amendment for what constitutes “allowed” speech and religion. Giving government the power to determine whether speech is made with or without “good cause” creates problems that our nation’s founders understood all too well.
“I think the city feels like he’s small and that he’s insignificant and that he is a pest … and his life [doesn’t] matter that much,” Ballinger said. “They’re willing to crush his rights because he’s a nuisance to the wrong people.”
“It’s fundamentally immoral,” he continued, “not to mention unconstitutional.”
Thankfully, Anders is not being pawned off on a public defender hungry for a plea deal. Ballinger and the NACL are ready to fight for the street preacher’s rights, and by extension, the most basic right afforded to all of us by the Constitution.
“Right now he’s the least one, but it won’t be very long until we’re the least ones,” Ballinger warned. “It’s important that his rights are protected and that our rights are protected.”
A fundraiser securing donations for Anders’ legal defense can be found here.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.