Two men protesting against a 2015 Nashville LGBTQ Pride Festival were ordered by police to remove themselves from the event. The two protesters sued, and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled, 2-1, in their favor, overturning the earlier decision against them in federal district court.
John McGlone and Jeremy Peters asserted that their rights to Free Speech were violated when they were forced to stop preaching outside a celebration of LGBTQ community and identity, a philosophy of which they disapproved.
McGlone, an evangelical preacher from Kentucky, has been involved in Nashville Free Speech controversies in the past. In 2012, he was cited for violating the city’s noise ordinances by preaching too loudly in the streets. He appealed that decision, saying it was a violation of his Free Speech rights, but lost on appeal. That same year, he was also fined for “disturbing the peace” outside a music festival. He appealed that decision, also citing his First Amendment rights, and lost accordingly, according to the Nashville Tennessean.
Peters is involved in another, unrelated Free Speech lawsuit in which he claims his First Amendment rights were infringed when he was threatened with arrest for protesting outside of a Nashville arena.
In June 2015, McGlone and Peters were protesting outside the Nashville Pride Festival, using bullhorns and other sound amplifiers to condemn and preach against same-sex relationships, according to The Tennessean. An off-duty Nashville police officer, who had been hired by a private firm to provide security for the festival, instructed the men to leave the sidewalk in front of Public Square Park, where the festival was being held, or face arrest. They moved across the street, but continued to preach for hours, the Tennessean reported.
The next year, McGlone and Peters filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Nashville. They argued that their Free Speech rights had been violated when they were forced to relocate, according to the Associated Press. The city countered that police actions against McGlone and Peters were not based on the content of what they were saying, but were rather due to their “interfering” with the festival’s mission, according to the Tennessean. The district court initially ruled in favor of the city in September 2017, a decision which McGlone and Peters would eventually appeal.
Appellate court rules in favor of preaching protesters
On September 19, 2018, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of McGlone and Peters, saying the city’s restriction of the two protesters was clearly content-based, and a violation of their First Amendment rights.
“Nashville’s explanation leaves no doubt that but for the anti-homosexuality message that McGlone and Peters were advancing as they stood on the sidewalk, they would not have been excluded,” the order said, according to the Tennessean. “How, then, can Nashville argue that its restriction of the preachers’ speech was not content based?”
The ruling also found that McGlone and Peters did not attempt to participate in the festival or to co-opt its purpose. Hence, the court said, the city’s presumed authority to remove them was invalid.
Circuit Court Judge Karen Nelson Moore dissented from the appellate court decision, arguing that the protesters’ use of bullhorns was sufficiently disruptive that the city could remove them without paying heed to their content.
Prepared by Maya Gandhi ’20
Uploaded October 4 , 2018