Ban prohibiting preachers on Bourbon Street lifted at request from federal judge

Preachers can once again join noisy revelers, half-dressed dancers and lanyard-wearing conventioneers when the sun goes down on Bourbon Street.

The New Orleans City Council on Thursday lifted a ban that has prohibited street preachers and other individuals and groups from gathering on the thoroughfare “for the purpose of disseminating any social, political or religious message between the hours of sunset and sunrise.”

The council repealed that portion of a 2011 ordinance governing “aggressive solicitation” in the French Quarter to make it more “palatable” to the federal judge overseeing a lawsuit that challenges the ban, associate city attorney Ron Pursell said.

Pursell did not identify the case. However, the ban has prompted at least two lawsuits, which are being handled as one case by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier.

Pastor Paul Gros named Mayor Mitch Landrieu, the members of the City Council and Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas in a lawsuit filed in September after he, his wife and two friends were prohibited from preaching on Bourbon Street in May.

Kelsey McCauley of Raven Ministries, a religious congregation whose members often preached on Bourbon Street by carrying signs or wearing shirts that read “I Love Jesus” and “Ask Me How Jesus Changed My Life,” also filed suit in September after being ushered from the street by police officers.

Violating the “aggressive solicitation” law is a misdemeanor offense, punishable by six months in jail and a $500 fine.

The American Civil Liberties Union intervened on McCauley’s behalf last year and U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon issued a temporary restraining order on the ban.

Marjorie Esman, executive director of ACLU of Louisiana, declined comment because the organization’s case is still pending. A status conference is scheduled for Aug. 15.

The ban’s repeal cleared the council in a 6-0 vote, with Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell absent. Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer, who sponsored the initial ordinance, also presented the revision. There was no discussion.

Gisleson Palmer’s office referred all questions Landrieu’s office, which declined comment.

“As you know, this is a matter that is in litigation and the city has received a request, if you want to put it that way, from the federal judge to alter the language of the city code — of this section of the code — that would make it palatable for the court and constitutional,” associate city attorney Ron Pursell said. ”This amendment would do that and it has also been approved by our office as well as the attorneys on the opposing side.”

In addition to permitting street preaching, the council also changed some language in the existing law.

What had been described as “offensive, obscene or abusive language,” has been cut down to simply “obscene language.” A clause describing harassing behavior was changed from “grab, follow or engage in conduct which reasonably tends to arouse alarm or anger in others” to “grab or follow another for the sole purpose of harassment.”

The law also now only governs what happens in public places. It had previously applied to “any public or private place.”