A Christian who hands out tracts about his faith to people he meets is suing Cal Expo, the grounds for the California state fair, because it allows free speech on only .00025 percent of its 350 acres.
That’s approximately 36 square feet of more than 15 million.
And then, the distribution is allowed only with a permit.
The Pacific Justice Institute filed the complaint in Sacramento Superior Court on behalf of Burt Camenzind against the California Exposition and State Fair and its CEO, Rick Pickering.
In addition to the fair, Cal Expo hosts millions of visitors each year at a wide variety of festivals, concerts, trade shows, sports and other events, the complaint explains.
It was last November when 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,” the Pacific Justice explained.
Law enforcement at the event accused him of “soliciting” then ordered him to leave, which he did to avoid arrest, PJI said.
The institute first responded with a legal demand letter, seeking affirmation of constitutional speech rights, but Cal Expo authorities did not act, prompting the lawsuit.
“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,” the institute said.
PJI lawyer Matthew McReynolds said 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.”
The case cites the First Amendment and Article I, Section 2 of the state constitution.
The complaint states: “Camenzind initiates conversations with willing co-participants. He does not hawk literature like a vendor, preach at passersby, hinder the free flow of pedestrian traffic, raise his voice, or pursue those who may not with to speak with him.”
It explains he’s been talking with the public in a variety of locations for 20 years, and in “nearly every other instance his expressive rights have been respected.”
At the November event there were no complaints from organizers, vendors or fellow attendees. Just police.
“By ordering Camenzind to cease his literature distribution and leave the presmises, Cal Expos personnel abridged Cmaenzind’s freedom of speech,” the complaint said. It seeks damages as well as a court declaration that the defendants “violated his First and Fourteenth Amendment freedoms.”