"Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said,
We ought to obey God rather than men." Acts 5:29
"Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the
Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as
unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for
the praise of them that do well." 1 Peter 2:13-14
There must be some way to reconcile the seemingly
contradictory verses given above. And, yea, there is. When man's laws
cross God's laws, God's laws are higher. At the top of the chain of
command is the Lord — just like you have a lower and higher court system
Now, at the very start of this chapter, I want to lay out some guidelines
for street preaching that will help keep you out of jail. This chapter is
written with this intent. Any idiot can go to jail; any drunk can be
belligerent and obnoxious enough to go to jail. The Lord did not call me
to defend the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution; He called me to
preach the gospel. However, I am a man and I am an American, and I do have
some rights and liberties which I intend to exercise for the glory of my
Stay away from private property. I know some
have fought and bled for the right to preach in privately-owned malls,
etc., but I am telling you how to preach and stay out of jail.
Do not use a public address system. There may
be a very few exceptions to this, but make sure you know what you're
doing. If you preach correctly, there really is no need. Besides, no
preacher before 1920 had this luxury.
Avoid preaching at night. Again, there may be
exceptions, and I have violated this rule several times in order to
accomplish a particular goal, but remember I am trying to tell you how
to stay out of jail.
Now, if you observe these rules and preach in broad
daylight, with no P.A. system, standing on public property, you have the
lowest risk of going to jail — or even of having an encounter with the
We, as American citizens, have a Constitutional right
of freedom of speech as well as freedom of practicing our religion. Anyone
can obtain a copy of the Constitution from a local library, courthouse,
bookstore, etc. The problem here is that municipalities sometimes have
laws that either infringe upon or inhibit the exercise of this right. In
these cases, your copy of the Constitution has very little effect on the
officer of the law who is about to throw you in the slammer for one or
more of the following:
disturbing the peace
disorderly conduct; or,
failure to maintain locomotion.
This last charge was made against a crippled,
preacher-friend of mine who was preaching on the street.
It is impossible for me to list all the local city
ordinances for every town. Circumstances vary from town to town.
Ordinances in one town may not apply to preaching in the next town.
My advice to novice street preachers, or pastors who have the time to
check out their local laws, is to go to the police station and describe to
them what you are about to do. Give them location, time of day, and a full
description of activities. If they give you liberty, then write down the
officers' names, ranks, and serial numbers, and have that on you when you
go to preach. Then, if you are stopped by an officer, kindly say that he
may want to check with his superiors. At that time, supply him with a copy
of their names, ranks, and badge numbers.
In the case of the police not giving you liberty, ask specifically what
law you would violate. Then, if you can make some alteration to your
activities which would bring you back within the limits of the law, take
care of the matter. If the law seems, after consideration and prayer, to
be unfair, obtain a copy of that law or ordinance and read it carefully.
You may have to test the law by getting arrested and letting the judge
decide. If it comes to this point, keep in mind that it is only a
misdemeanor and is usually thrown out of court. Also, if you anticipate an
encounter with police, be sure to have I.D. on you, and it is a good idea
to have enough cash to bail yourself out.
Police encounters are eventually inevitable if you are
going to have a public ministry. If you are going to preach in a certain
town many times during a long period of time, then follow the instructions
under the section entitled "City Ordinances." Whenever you have the time
to check out the local laws — do it. I preach in so many towns that such a
task is impossible.
When we preach, we observe the first three rules, and limit our time in
one place to thirty to forty minutes. Usually this is so perfectly timed,
that we are packing up the accordion just as the police arrive to tell us
we can't do that. We delight in these guerrilla warfare tactics, realizing
that the gospel went forth and the people were warned. Sometimes we will
have a confrontation with the police. Again, the one not preaching tries
to run interference, and the preaching continues as long as possible. If
the police officer demands that you stop preaching, then you stop.
The next two illustrations I'm about to use violate the
third basic rule of street work: avoid preaching at night. The conflicts
which arose only serve to prove the wisdom of observing the rule.
Albany, Georgia, fall of 1987, Banana's Bar on Slappy Drive, 9:30
p.m. Six of us (five preachers and one wife) preached to a parking lot
full of cars, but no people. Ten minutes later there were thirty-five to
forty folk who had come out to hear us. A black policewoman arrived — very
authoritatively — wielding a flashlight. She started out of her car toward
the one preaching when I headed her off. Following is our conversation:
Policewoman: "Are you in charge here?"
Myself: "Yes, Ma'am"
Policewoman: "Would you mind moving just a hundred yards down this way?"
Myself: "Well, Ma'am, there is no one down there, and there are people
here. Are we not on public property? Is there really any legal reason why
we cannot remain here?" (Remember, the preaching is still going on.)
Policewoman: "Well, these folks really don't want to hear what you have to
Myself: "Well, Ma'am, really, if you know where there is a group of people
who want to hear what we have to say, I'll move the whole crew there."
Policewoman: "I see what you mean." (Then she was joined by a backup
patrolman. A wimpy sort of fellow.)
Wimp Cop: "But these folks are drunk, and they might come out of the bar
and start something."
Myself: "Sir, if that happens, you may rest assured that we did not start
it and that it is not what we are trying to accomplish. Also, you may
consider that they may come out of the bar and hear the gospel and get
saved, and never go back in the bar."
Wimp Cop: "Yes, I never thought of that."
Policewoman: "Well, just how long do you plan to be preaching here?" (At
this point I know I have won the liberty to continue and it really didn't
matter what answer I gave. In order to save face, the policewoman had to
have the last word.)
Myself: "We have already been here for quite a while, so we'll probably
stay for about twenty minutes more."
Policewoman: "Well, if that's all you'll be here, then that's fine."
(The preaching never stopped.)
Jacksonville, Florida, October 1987, Fantasee World Topless Lounge,
Cesary Boulevard, 8:30 p.m. My partner and I parked on the public street
in front of the lounge just thirty feet from the front door. We didn't
realize that this lounge had been the center of heated controversy for the
past two weeks. The owner's interpretation of the law prohibiting
toplessness was that it was inseparable with the alcohol license. He
relinquished his license to allow toplessness and invited
seventeen-year-olds in as well. The papers had kept it hot, and several
groups had already protested and demonstrated against it. We had a 4x6
utility trailer with a steel top for a preaching platform, and it was
richly and attractively lettered with a bold witness. When we parked, we
looked at a parking lot full of cars and one bouncer at the outside of the
door. We sat and discussed whether it would be beneficial to preach or
not. We decided to pray about it.
When we finished praying, we opened our eyes and there at my partner's
door stood four enormous bouncers. They asked if they could help us. We
replied in the negative and asked if we could help them. To say we were
intimidated would be a gross understatement. They asked what we planned to
do, and we said, "We're going to preach." They said, "You can't preach
here. This is private property." We said, "We're going to preach on our
trailer from the street, and this is our private property." They said, "We
can have you removed." We said, "You do what you have to, but we're going
to preach." They left to call the police.
I looked at my partner and said, "Well, there's no more debating about it,
we gotta preach now." He agreed and got out on top of the trailer. I
almost wish I had gotten there first. I grabbed some tracts and stood on
the curb. My partner began to preach, and within ten minutes, the lounge
and the pits of hell both vomited their contents into the parking lot. The
vilest, most demonic group of sinners I have ever faced stood before us
mocking, jeering, gurgling, prancing, growling, and threatening to end our
ministry with a martyr's crowning. A whore stood half clothed with sun
glasses on at 8:30 p.m. and said in a valley girl accent, "You guys are
ridiculous. You know that, don't ya?" Presently, a young male drove his
car up and blocked the driveway between us and the front door. He opened
all the doors and turned his stereo full volume with heavy metal rock. One
of the huge bouncers was prancing about the trailer and us, growling and
making other virtually inhuman noises. Then, he would stop and say,
"You're going to jail. I hope you like jail. Maybe we'll come and see you
down at the jail." Traffic had now slowed considerably on the four lane
street we were parked on, and there was a general disturbance in the area.
My partner never stopped preaching, and I, with clammy hands, was offering
everyone a tract, with no success at all. This was one of the few times I
have actually prayed for the police to come.
Then it got worse. The owner came out, cheered by the crowd, who expected
him to be successful in scaring us off. He was a sight! He was about
fifty-five, with long, bleach blond hair. He had a dame on each arm and,
on a choker chain, a 175 pound Rotweiler looking for preacher meat. The
owner told us that we were parked illegally and that we'd better leave
before the police got there, or we would go to jail. I told him we'd wait
and let the police decide. So, he decided to give us a stress test. He
ordered his dog to attack my partner, who was still preaching on the
trailer. The dog went wild trying to get on top of the trailer, and might
have been successful but for the choker chain. My partner never flinched;
he was full of the power of the Holy Spirit. The owner then commanded the
dog to attack me on the ground. Oh, how I felt the call to preach. The dog
was fourteen inches from my body and ferociously following the command of
his master. Wishing I had on a Depend diaper, I offered everyone another
round of tracts, but no takers — not even Poochy.
The parking lot was now crowded, the lounge was probably suffering from
lack of patronage, the traffic was at a crawl because of the riotous
situation, and finally the police arrived. Oh, was I happy to see that
policeman. He pulled right into the parking lot, and was immediately
thronged by the lounge people, who were urging him to throw us in jail or
make us quit. He hushed them quickly and gave sharp orders to get the
music turned off, the car moved, and the dog out of the way. Then he just
got in his car for a precious few moments while my partner continued to
preach. He got out, straightened his uniform, walked slowly over to me,
and said, "Is this your outfit?" I answered that it was. Then he said very
slowly, even hesitantly as if to stall as long as possible, "You're parked
in an emergency zone." I stalled, too, allowing maximum preaching of the
gospel, then I replied, "My goodness, is that right? I saw no markings to
indicate that. What about all these other cars parked along here?" He
answered, stalling yet another sizable pause, "Well, I don't know who they
belong to, but they'll have to move as well." I said, "Well, if we are
really parked illegally, I guess we'll have to move then. Come on, Bear."
Bear, my partner, got in the car and we drove off quickly to a rest room.
The bottom line is that there were forty to fifty folk who heard the
gospel and who knew that there had been a prophet among them (Ezek. 2:5).
O.K., suppose you've done everything you could do to
avoid it, but they still arrest you. Now what? First of all, don't panic;
it's only a misdemeanor, and most likely, if you handle it right, it will
be thrown out of court at the arraignment. But, if you have the time,
money, and inclination to fight for the open door to preach the gospel in
that community, then I have listed some people to contact for help,
advice, and information at the end of this section.
Please make sure, however, that you have been arrested for preaching on
the street. Several years ago in Birmingham, Alabama, I was preaching with
five other preachers. We had been standing on a cement newsstand on the
corner. The police came right up to us and said, "You may preach on the
sidewalk, but not on the newsstand. If you continue on the newsstand, I'll
have to take you to the station." Three preachers got up on the stand in
the presence of the officer and were arrested. As they gleefully rode away
in the caged back seat of the police car, I thought to myself, "What a
bunch of idiots." They were not arrested for preaching on the street; they
were arrested for violating private property and disobeying a police
Christian Law Association
Gibbs and Craze Law Firm
Cleveland, Ohio (216) 696-3900
Transcripts of interesting court cases involving street preaching may be
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
Record No. 84-2192
Buren Lee Furr, Jr., et al., Appellees,
Town of Swansea, et al., Appellants.
Oren G. Briggs
P.O. Box 12640
Columbia, South Carolina 29211
Counsel for Appellees
John W. Whitehead
The Rutherford Institute
P.O. Box 510
Manassas, Virginia 22110
Counsel for Appellees
Court of Common Pleas
39th Judicial District of Pennsylvania
Franklin Country Branch
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania vs.
David Theodore Stroede and Timothy John Schuler
Criminal Action Nos. 153-180-1986
Charge: Disorderly Conduct
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