Man says ruling will bring his preaching to screeching halt at Iowa State Fair
(CNN) — If you plan a stroll along the lanes of the Iowa State Fair, you’ll be able to see the usual Butter Cow, the famous Double Ferris Wheel and have more than “60 delectable items on a stick” from 200-plus food vendors.
You might even take a selfie with “God Bless America,” a 25-foot traveling sculpture depicting Grant Wood’s famous “American Gothic.”
But because of a restrictive ruling from a federal judge on Tuesday, one thing you won’t see is Jason Powell on the sidewalk bordering the fairgrounds.
On August 15 and 16 of last year, Powell was ejected from a public sidewalk surrounding the fairgrounds as he tried to preach to attendees while holding up a sign proclaiming the Gospel.
Powell filed a lawsuit in June of this year, in which he claimed his First and 14th Amendment rights were violated. He says officers removed him from a public sidewalk outside the fairgrounds while he “expressed his Christian beliefs.” It’s a sidewalk even the defendants admitted was public.
In the lawsuit, Powell said officers and troopers with batons and handcuffs surrounded him, demanding that he leave the spot outside a ticket gate. Powell said he chose the spot to make sure his message reached as many people as possible. Powell said he did not solicit money, harass anyone or encourage membership to any organization. He only wanted people to hear and see his message.
Powell’s attorney is Nate Kellum, president of the Center for Religious Expression.
In an e-mail to CNN, Kellum said, “Jason only represents himself and his understanding of Christianity. He tries not to focus on denominational issues. He does not receive support from any group.”
Powell was issued an ejection notice and was told not to return for the remainder of the fair.
Powell said the message he received from authorities at the fair was clear: Powell and his preaching were not welcome at the fair or on the sidewalks surrounding the “greatest state fair in our fair state” of Iowa.
“Jason was shocked and dismayed,” Kellum said. “He was doing what he believes he is obliged to do according to his faith and has a fundamental right to do according to U.S. Constitution. Being escorted away and told to never come back was demeaning.”
After Powell received no response to a December 2013 letter asking the commissioner of the Iowa State Patrol and the state’s attorney general for assurance that he be allowed to return to the public sidewalks outside the fairgrounds, he filed the federal lawsuit.
Judge Robert W. Pratt for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa ruled that Powell can return only to two areas away from the main gate — where Kellum said Powell’s message won’t reach anyone.
“We’re disappointed and believe the court got it wrong. As it stands, Mr. Powell has no discernible relief,” Kellum said.
“The only places where he can go on the fairgrounds and share his message are the two spots mentioned by fair officials where there is absolutely no foot traffic. The right to speak encompasses a corresponding right to be heard, and Mr. Powell is being deprived of that fundamental right.”
Assistant Attorney General David Dorff said Tuesday, “We are pleased that the court recognized the importance of maintaining the safety of people traveling into, out of and around the fair. We look forward to a fun, safe and well-attended fair.”