The attorneys of a Tennessee grandfather, who say a city law that bans their client from reading the Bible on a public sidewalk without a permit violates his constitutional rights, have received a response from the city of Sweetwater.
“Thank you for your email/letters to the City of Sweetwater, its mayor, recorder and attorney regarding Paul Johnson’s exercise of his first amendment right to freely express his religious beliefs on public ways in Sweetwater, Tennessee,” wrote City Attorney John Cleveland, Sr., in a letter dated last Friday.
“You may accept this letter as your requested written assurance that the City of Sweetwater, Tennessee, will allow Mr. Johnson to peacefully share his religious beliefs in Sweetwater without requiring him to apply for or obtain any permit pursuant to Ordinance 16-110 of the Municipal Code of the City of Sweetwater, Tennessee,” he continued.
First Liberty and the Center for Religious Expression represent Johnson and had sent a letter last week, requesting that the city stop using the ordinance.
The letter ended with a demand that Sweetwater provide “written assurance,” allowing Johnson “to peacefully share his religious beliefs at future events without imposing the unconstitutional permit requirement for ‘demonstrations’ on him.”
Johnson’s attorneys threatened to pursue legal action if the city did not meet a three-week deadline.
“The City appreciates your bringing to its attention the constitutional infirmities in the ordinance identified in your correspondence,” Cleveland continued in the response letter. “We would appreciate any suggestions you might have regarding potential amendments to or replacement of Ordinance 16-110 that would meet your perceived constitutional requirements.”
In an email to CBN News, which included the city’s response letter, First Liberty Deputy General Counsel Jeremy Dys wrote that the letter “indicates significant progress toward a positive resolution.”
City Recorder Jessica Morgan also emailed CBN News a copy of the city’s letter.
“As discussed, The City of Sweetwater appreciates the rights of free speech,” she wrote to CBN News in an email. “We have never banned anyone from reading any book in public on a sidewalk.”