Saturday, November 16, 2013

Will You Go to Heaven When You Die?

            Imagine yourself enjoying a nice leisurely day of shopping when all of a sudden you walk past a man who approaches you asking “will you go to heaven when you die?” You politely ignore him and keep walking, uninterested in his view of religion, but feel slightly annoyed that he is trying to impose his views on you. Maybe you make a comment while walking past a security officer, hoping that the situation will be taken care of. After all, why should you be subjected to someone else’s view point, you came to the mall to shop, not to listen to someone preach. The mall cops kindly ask the man to leave the premises, and to go through the proper procedure in order to be allowed to solicit on the property. When he refuses, they arrest him on a defiant trespassing charge.
            David Wells, of Oakhurst, NJ was the man arrested in the Monmouth Mall. He is a born-again Christian, and a retired cop. A large part of his faith is to evangelize and spread the word of the Lord. While this may seem inconvenient to the passerby who holds a different religious view and is uninterested in hearing what he has to say, for Wells he would not be acting on his faith if he did not try to convert others. The best place to do this is in a public setting such as a shopping mall. However, the fact that this is a privately owned mall allows some restrictions on the assumed freedom of speech.
            Wells himself cited the New Jersey Supreme Court ruling “New Jersey Coalition Against War in the Middle East v. J.M.B. Realty Corporation” as evidence that he should be allowed to distribute pamphlets in the mall. This case concerned a group of Persian Gulf War protestors who had requested permission to hand out pamphlets in a mall and were denied. In this case the Court ruled that their freedom of speech was being inhibited. However, what Wells failed to recognize was that even in this case the Court recognized that the privately owned mall could impose reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions. The Monmouth mall did in fact allow solicitation and offered to make a reasonable accommodation had Wells simply sought a permit. Wells admittedly did not take this extra step. He did not see reason to; in his own words, “I was just talking to people. I wasn’t amplified, I wasn’t street preaching on top of a soapbox. I was just approaching people one on one.”
            What makes this case even more interesting is that not only is free speech a concern, but also Wells’ right to freely exercise his religion. Regardless of whether or not the mall owners have the right to censor his speech by requiring Wells to apply for a permit in order to “solicit” in the space, should they be able to hinder his free exercise of religion? This seems to resemble the 1940 Supreme Court case Cantwell v. Connecticut, in which Jehovah’s Witnesses were given an exemption from an anti-solicitation law because their evangelical practices were central to their religion and they were not harming anyone in a public sphere. There has not been a more recent case that would overturn this if the exact conditions occurred; in fact the Court has become even more sympathetic to religious freedom that overlaps with the freedom of speech. However, at what point is evangelizing not considered a central part of the religion and would protecting the right therefore be less important? Does the fact that a mall is technically a private sphere change the implications?
            I do not think that the courts should be able to decide which religion evangelizing is important in, because that leaves the minority religions in a very vulnerable place to be judged harshly by the majority. However, I also think that even if the courts held the centrality of evangelizing in a religion to high importance in determining a case like this, born-again Christians would probably be recognized as valuing the evangelical ideals almost as much as Jehovah’s Witnesses. Therefore, I think that if this case makes it to a trial, the Court should go off of precedent in the Cantwell decision and rule that David Wells was wrongly arrested and that prohibiting him from spreading his evangelical message in a mall is violating his right to freely exercise his religion. I do not find the argument that a mall is a private setting compelling, because although that may technically be true, the atmosphere is one of a public space.



            Although I do acknowledge the fact many shoppers may find the solicitation inconvenient, it is important to remember that even if they are the majority, the minority has a constitutional right to freely exercise his religion. The majority does not have a constitutional right to avoid any inconveniences. What do you think? 

10 comments:

Gabby D. said...

This is a very interesting case. I agree with Nicole, and I think there may also be an element of freedom of speech that the defendant could appeal to. It is widely known that spreading the faith is a part of this mans religion, and inhibiting him to do so would plainly be a violation of his free exercise. As long as he is not inflicting harm upon anyone else, it seems that the burden someone may feel by passing by this man, is less significant than the burden this man would feel when being denied to overtly express and practice his religion.

Liz L. said...

I believe that Wells has the right to preach his beliefs. He is not infringing upon anyone’s rights and is not doing this with the intention of offending people. It is strictly a religious discussion that he is participating in. Limiting free speech and the flow of ideas through society will lead to future problems, such as civil unrest, dictatorship etc. Wells is not pressing his beliefs on anyone and forcing them to believe them; all he is doing is expressing his believes in hopes that he can persuade someone to agree with him. There is no bad intention; it is his expression based on his rights to free speech and free exercise. The counter argument to my belief is that the mall is privately owned property for the sole purpose of commerce; however, when malls allow speakers or programs, they open themselves up to discrimination if they refuse to allow certain points of view to be expressed. In today’s society, the mall is not commonly viewed as being privately owned, which adds to the problem.

Jennie M. said...

I think regardless of how central evangelizing is to this man's religion, he has a right to solicit people in this way. This case does have free speech elements to it and I think denying him the right to spread his faith in a non-violent manner is both a violation of free speech and free exercise. I understand that the mall might not want it to look as if Wells' views represent the mall owners' views, but I think the way in which he was approaching people and talking to them should be protected under the First Amendment.

Maddie C. said...

I thought, like Nicole, that this case is very similar to Cantwell v. Connecticut. Because the Jehovah’s Witnesses were allowed to proselytize their religion as a result of their constitutional rights, David Wells should be given that opportunity as well. He is free to speak his own beliefs and express his own religion. He is not causing any harm, but simply spreading his views, and he should be protected to do so by his right to free speech and his right to practice his religion.

compassiondave said...

Thank you for sharing the story. God bless.

Sayeh B said...

I think I'm going to disagree with Nicole on this case. While I understand that Mr. Wells has the right to freely exercise his religion and the right to freedom of speech, I don't think his need to practice his religion takes priority over the rules and regulations of the mall/state. If he wants to stand on the mall's property and solicit the people who enter, I think he needs to follow the rules and get the necessary permits to legally solicit. Regardless of whether he was distributing pamphlets or not, I don't think that making sure a person gets a permit before spreading information about their religion is preventing them from freely exercising that religion or hindering their free speech.

Adam J said...

I agree with Jennie. This case has more than religious implications. I don’t think you can take away his free speech and the fact that this also affects his religious rights makes this absurd. He absolutely should be allowed to evangelize and if people do not want to listen they do not have to.

compassiondave said...

"The rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God." John F. Kennedy

compassiondave said...

We are finally here! Court is this week, THURSDAY, January 23rd, 2014. I covet the prayers of the saints! To God be the glory!

David Wells said...

For those who are following the case, I was found guilty in the local municipal court and have filed an appeal with the Superior Court. In the meantime, I still keep busy sharing the Gospel wherever I find myself, including the local mall. As of late I started a Go Fund Me page, NOT FOR ME, but to build a freshwater well for a pastor friend of mine in Uganda. Here is the link if you'd like to know more: https://www.gofundme.com/e25y3sbs