Four Oklahoma City residents who want to preach about their Christian faith in Bricktown are suing the city over enforcement of its noise ordinance.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, alleges enforcement of the city's noise ordinance, which restricts them to three permits a year to preach with an amplifier, infringes on their constitutional rights to free speech and free practice of religion.
The plaintiffs are listed as Brady Brewer, Trisha Brewer, Shane Dodson and Tammi Dodson.
Their attorney, who said they are Protestant Christian residents of Oklahoma City, said they preferred not to comment on the case because they are not seeking publicity.
The city has not been officially served with the lawsuit, city spokeswoman Kristy Yager said. But city officials stand by the noise ordinance and its enforcement.
“The Constitution states that we can regulate speech by time, place and manner, as long as it is not content-based,” Yager said. “Our noise permit (ordinance) is content-neutral.”
The plaintiffs' attorney, Brent Olsson, countered that the city's restriction on the number of times they can preach amounts to prior restraint.
Prior restraint of free speech is unconstitutional in many cases.
The city's restrictions unnecessarily trample the plaintiffs' constitutional rights to share their faith, the suit alleges.
“Jesus has commanded that they share their faith with other people. That is a central religious belief that they have,” Olsson said.
Another point of contention between the plaintiffs and the city is whether the ordinance applies specifically to amplified sound.
Assistant city attorney Jennifer Warren wrote to another one of the plaintiffs' attorneys in January explaining that the plaintiffs are free to preach in public as they like, so long as they aren't using an amplifier, or have a valid permit if they are.
The group typically preaches through words and song, and sometimes uses amplification, Olsson said. But the plaintiffs allege the city's noise ordinance is too broad and can be interpreted to restrict noise even when an amplifier isn't used.
“It could be enforced that way if somebody complains, ‘You guys are making a loud noise,'” Olsson said. “It can be interpreted (that way) because it's ambiguous.”
Olsson stressed that the plaintiffs plan to share their faith in a peaceful and respectful way.
He noted that even the word “preach” often has negative connotations because of some high-profile religious groups that protest funerals of soldiers and other events, but his clients aren't seeking to do anything disruptive.
The plaintiffs are also represented by Frederick Nelson, an attorney with the Florida-based American Liberties Institute.
Contributing: Staff Writer Nolan Clay