Bruce Gerencser, street preaching, Crooksville, Ohio, with his young son Jaime. Circa late 1980s.
A few years ago, several men from Calvary Chapel in Hemet, California went to the local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to preach to the captive audience lined up outside the DMV waiting for it to open. Not long after they started preaching, at the behest of a DMV security guard, a California Highway Patrol (CHP) officer was dispatched to the DMV to deal with the street preachers. After refusing to stop preaching, the obnoxious preachers were arrested. According to the CHP officer, they were breaking the “preaching to a captive audience” law. After finding out no such law exists, the charge was amended to “impeding an open business.” This charge was dropped and the district attorney then charged the street preachers with trespassing.
Here’s a YouTube video of what took place:
The arrested street preachers secured legal representation through the Advocates for Faith and Freedom (operated by Robert Tyler and Jennifer Bursch), a non-profit law firm “dedicated to protecting religious liberty in the courts.” According to a September 2015 update on the law firm’s website, the criminal case against the street preachers was dropped. Advocates for Faith and Freedom have since filed a federal lawsuit seeking “a federal remedy to further clear his (Mark McCay) name and to protect other individuals who seek to peacefully express their faith.” The update states the following:
Advocates for Faith & Freedom has filed a legal brief in support of religious freedom before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of Mark Mackey, the Riverside man who was preaching the gospel when he was arrested outside the Hemet DMV for what a CHP officer deemed “interfering with an open business through obstruction or intimidation.”
Last year, though, a Superior Court judge absolved Mackey of the crime saying that the street preacher did not violate the law. During the course of the criminal trial, the judge also suggested that the law used by the CHP officer was unconstitutional.
Mackey and two other men were reading the Bible outside the DMV when Officer Darren Meyer accused them of preaching to a “captive audience.” The officer later amended the allegations, citing them instead for intimidation. At the time the men were approached by the officer, however, the DMV office was closed and the men were standing 50 feet from the entrance as citizens waited outside the door. The men never approached the crowd. After insisting that they were exercising their constitutional rights, the officer arrested Mark Mackey and Brett Coronado.
The federal suit—stayed while the criminal case played out in state court—alleges that there was no probable cause to arrest Mackey and that his First Amendment rights were violated. Even though our client has been criminally cleared, we are seeking a federal remedy to further clear his name and to protect other individuals who seek to peacefully express their faith. The federal district court found that the CHP officer did have probable cause. We will keep you apprised as this Ninth Circuit Appeal advances..
I first heard of this story through Defending Contending, a fundamentalist Christian blog. A man by the name of Bill Phillips wrote an article about the arrest of the street preachers. Here’s part of what he had to say:
I discussed this with a couple atheists in the comments on this YouTube video. They are biased against anyone preaching about the Bible of course; they also believe these preachers broke the law. They say they support freedom of speech, but they don’t seem to understand that the whole point of the First Amendment is to protect speech you may find offensive or annoying.
I spent a number of years preaching on public street corners and sidewalks. I was accosted numerous times by law enforcement officers demanding that I stop preaching. While I was never thrown in the pokey, I was threatened with arrest numerous times. In every instance it was a local business owner who demanded the police shut me up. Try as they might to keep me from preaching, they failed miserably. One Saturday, knowing they couldn’t arrest me, four Zanesville, Ohio police officers parked their cruisers a short distance from me and got out of the cars. For the entire time I was there they stood staring at me, hoping that I would be intimidated into quitting. I wasn’t, and later I went to the police station and filed a complaint against the officers.
Having experienced the heavy hand of law enforcement officers who are ignorant of the law and the first amendment, I am sympathetic towards anyone who is harassed or arrested for exercising their first amendment right to free speech. When I read the aforementioned story on Defending Contending, I decided to leave a comment in support of the arrested street preachers. Here’s my innocuous, supportive, relatively non-offensive, non-argumentative comment:
Well, I am an atheist who supports the right for idiots to stand on public property and preach. This is America and the freest real estate in America is public property.
I preached on the streets for many years. I was threatened with arrest dozens of times. I have been harassed by police more times than I can count. I stood my ground because the first amendment matters…for Christians and atheists.
This means having to put up with people and speech I find offensive.
Yes, I called the street preachers idiots. They are. And they are also obnoxious, in your face, and offensive. While I support their first amendment right to free speech, it doesn’t necessarily follow that I like or support their message. I don’t. As a former street preacher, I know all the tricks of the trade. So when I come across street preachers haranguing the public with the “good news”, I tend to mock them. Just exercising my right to free speech, even if Polly wishes I wouldn’t. I tend to see harassing street preachers as fun and games. Polly just stands in the distance, alternately laughing and shaking her head.
In leaving my comment, I thought Bill Phillips and Defending Contending readers would appreciate an atheist standing up for the fundamentalist street preachers, especially since the blog post mentioned several atheist YouTube commenters who thought differently. I should have known better.
Jim, using the Flee Babylon moniker, replied to my comment with this:
“Well! I am an atheist who supports the right for idiots to stand on public property and preach.”
Bruce – There are many problems with your alleged testimony. Let me ask you a question. Were you truly born again (met Christ not in word but in reality and power) and now turned away from him or did you have a mental belief in Christ, earn a living from it, and now your mental belief is changed?
As you know, I have no patience for this line of interrogation. I have written about it numerous times. I replied to Jim:
Normally Jim I would use a few choice words to tell you want I think of your comment but I will respect the fact this is not my house,
Your use of the word alleged is offensive. It is my life, my story, my testimony and you don’t get to frame the storyline. I was every bit a Christian that you now are. I don’t care if that squares with your theology. It matters not to me whether or not you think or know I was never a Christian. I know. I give you this challenge…. Find one person who knew me as their pastor or a fellow colleague in the ministry who thought, at the time, I was not a Christian. Either I was deluded and an expert at deceiving people or your theological premise fails when applied to real life.
That said, what the **** does this have to do with the point of the post? I won’t discuss this further with you. Come over to my house and we can discuss it there.
And let the pile on begin…
Todd 3588 writes:
What’s an atheist?
Jon Gleason writes:
1 John 2:19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.
Linda MacDonald writes:
Bruce Gerencser, GOD says you were never his and you nor I get to “frame the storyline” HE DOES. There’s no such thing as being A Christian and then no longer being one.
Jesus after talking about people who did great things in his name says-”Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ -”Mat 7:23
“I NEVER KNEW YOU” means never.
A person does not become born again of the spirit of God and become unborn. God’s word clearly says- “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.”-1 John 3:9.
a person leaving and becoming a staunch atheist is evidence that you were one of the first 3 soils but never the 4th soil-good soil.
Satan has mental assent just like many people have but never a full commitment from your heart where GOD reaches down to YOU and saves you. It is God who reaches down to us not us reaching up to him.
No human decision saves anyone-John 1:13 only when we are born of God from above.
Mickie Merrie writes:
What astounds me is he sees it as a badge he wears to brag about it! Any remorse for the sheep he sheared?
Just wrote this the other day for another blog..sure seems to fit this one too!
“A man blinded by God…a man struck deaf by God…due to His perfect judgement of the heart, cannot be made to see or hear by man. We may not even yet see their blindness nor deafness, for it begins at God’s descretion (sic), due to sin in the heart, long before it manifest itself in their actions. This too explains the sudden change in the behavior of those who walked the path uprightly in days gone by.
It’s not how you ran the race, but how you run the race, and finish a winner in Him.”
Having put his hand to the plow and looked back …
Perhaps this will help him and those who relate to him get a cleare (sic) picture, it is good for all of us to read…
Happy Resurrection Day to everybody!
Here are two thoughts….The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” Do not answer a fool according to his folly, Or you will also be like him.
Todd3558 also wrote:
Ah the “interpretation” arguement (sic) AGAIN. “That’s YOUR truth.” “This is MY truth.” Blah, blah, blah. “Your interpretation is wrong…if you were as smart as me, then your interpretation and understanding and (non)belief would be as ‘advanced’ as mine.” Blah, blah, blah.
Anti-Christian, A(nti)theists are all the same. Arrogant. Elitist. Dead in their sin. Blind to truth. Under the wrath of God. Destined to spend eternity in a place created for Satan and his angels. Just like all others who’ve not been given the gift of faith and conversion.
And finally Jim chimed in, giving me his email address and telling me what a wonderful guy he is:
“I was every bit a Christian that you now are”
That is my point, I could never say “I used to be married but now I dont (sic) believe that my wife ever exsited (sic)”. Such a statement would mean either:
A) I only imagined I was married, however popwerful (sic) that imagination was (like I bought a second car to keep in the drive way, drew a picture of what I thought my wife might look like, etc)
B) I was married and am now so angry or hurt that I deny my estranged wife even existed
Either you were a false convert all along or you are an apostate and walked away from truly knowing Christ. This has nothing to do with theoolgy, (sic), just reality. I am not impressed with what people thought of you as a pastor either – modern church people are the easiest to trick into believing anything. If there is one thing I applaud it is you leaving the professional clergy that scripture knows nothing of. Maybe you will find Christ in the wilderness if you have never truly met Him. If not, I pray you find healing from what ever pain the religious beast system caused to you.
Please do not be angry at me and treat me as someone who deserves a few choice words. I would actually meet up with you if you lived near Detroit? My email is email@example.com
Interspersed in the comment section are several comments by my friend John Arthur. John, always a polite man, tried to engage Defending Contending commenters on my behalf, but to no avail. What’s interesting is that there is only one comment directly related to subject of the post. Feed a fundamentalist dog an atheist bone and it will forget the filet mignon in its food bowl.
I suppose that it could be argued that I baited the Christian commenters by calling the street preachers idiots. I can see how someone might think that, but that was not my intent. I simply made a judgment based on their behavior. They acted like idiots and I said so. Why should my opinion be considered offensive? Shouldn’t God’s chosen ones view such criticisms as a badge of honor? Doesn’t Psalm 119:165 say:
Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them.
Nothing shall offend them, the Bible says. Yet, one atheist uttering a six letter word causes some of the zealots at Defending Contending to feel offended. Man, they need to come over to the other side of the street and have a taste of the hate and maliciousness dished out by Jesus-loving Christians towards Bruce Gerencser, the preacher turned atheist.
I posted this to illustrate to readers how a comment of SUPPORT on a Christian blog turned into a personal attack. An attack, I might add that says far more about Defending Contending readers, their insecurities, and their religion, than it says about me.