Lawsuit: Evangelism, Free Speech, State Fairgrounds

By Pacific Justice Institute,

Sacramento, CA—A new lawsuit has been filed challenging speech restrictions at the California state fairgrounds, known as Cal Expo.

The suit is being filed by Burt Camenzind, who is represented by Pacific Justice Institute (PJI). In addition to the California State Fair, Cal Expo hosts millions of visitors each year at a wide variety of festivals, concerts, trade shows, sports, and other events.

In late November 2018, Camenzind attended a Hmong New Year festival at Cal Expo. He attends many such events and enjoys interacting with people from different cultures. Faith is an integral part of Camenzind’s life, and he typically carries Christian literature, known as tracts, when he goes to such events. Camenzind has tracts, as well as small coins imprinted with scriptures, in dozens of different languages. He finds that people are thrilled to be given literature and objects in their native language, and it facilitates communication when there is a language barrier.

When Camenzind handed literature and coins to fellow festival-goers at Cal Expo, he was stopped by law enforcement. He was first accused of “soliciting,” even though he was not selling anything or receiving donations. He was then ordered to leave the festival at once. Camenzind reluctantly complied in order to avoid arrest. He then contacted PJI.

PJI first sent a legal demand letter to the Cal Expo Chief of Police, which was answered and rejected by an attorney for the California Department of Justice. Cal Expo does not allow handing a piece of literature to another person on their premises without undergoing an application process. Even if permitted, Camenzind would have been confined to sharing tracts within a 6-foot by 6-foot space while Cal Expo encompasses approximately 350 acres.

PJI’s in-house attorneys in Sacramento, Matthew McReynolds and Kevin Snider, filed suit on Camenzind’s behalf this past Friday, March 8. McReynolds noted, “Cal Expo is a premier gathering place in Northern California for culturally diverse events. It should embrace, not expel, the free flow of ideas, including religious literature. Limiting literature to 36 square feet out of 350 acres does not come close to meeting Cal Expo’s constitutional obligations.”

Brad Dacus, the founder and president of PJI, commented, “We are honored to represent this evangelist who sought to cross cultural barriers to share the message that God created and loves people from every nation and tongue. We look forward to this opportunity to ensure that free speech is not suppressed for the millions of people who visit our state fairgrounds.”

Suit was filed in Sacramento County Superior Court. It is based on both the First Amendment and Article I, Section 2 of the California Constitution.

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