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Street preachers could face misdemeanors under proposed ordinance

Street preaching during the Apple Festival in September.

Staff Writer

The Lincolnton City Council has scheduled a public hearing for December to consider a recommendation from the City of Lincolnton Steering Committee regarding proposed changes to the city’s noise and special events and festivals ordinances that could address the recent complaints about street preachers at public events.

In August, steering committee chairman Fred Jarrett shared the details of his observations of the street preachers at a pair of Alive After Five concerts over the summer. He referred to them as a “nuisance” and accused them of distracting the audience from the music and frightening small children. He also said he witnessed an incident between a street preacher and a concert attendee that nearly evolved into a physical altercation.

The steering committee, which was founded with the intent of streamlining efforts between local government, support organizations and citizens to advance city objectives, was tasked by Lincolnton City Manager Steve Zickefoose with researching potential compromises between street preachers and patrons at downtown events.

The committee had spent the past couple of months reviewing state statutes and similar ordinances from other municipalities before ultimately crafting proposed amendments to the local code of ordinances that were reported in Wednesday’s edition of the Times-News. However, the committee sought feedback on the proposed changes from the University of North Carolina School of Government, which recommended several revisions to help the amendments fall in line with previous North Carolina Court of Appeals rulings.

The revised proposed special events and festivals ordinance amendment further clarifies the scope of the forbidden conduct that is deemed to be disruptive or dangerous to participants or attendees of the special event. The amendment would prohibit “abusive or threatening language that actually disrupts a special event or festival, or that abuses or threatens another person in a manner likely to cause a fight or brawl at a special event.”

The steering committee has also proposed an amendment to the city’s noise ordinance, prohibiting “any person or group of persons willfully making any loud, raucous and disturbing sound that — because of its volume, duration and character — annoyed, disturbed, injured or endangered the comfort, health, peace or safety of reasonable patrons of ordinary sensibilities in the neighborhood or central business district.”

If approved, a violation would result in a Class 2 misdemeanor unless it is alleged that the conduct was intentional or was carried out in a way that constituted willful or wanton disregard for the safety of the participants or attendees of the event, in which case it would constitute a Class 1 misdemeanor.

“I appreciate the steering committee’s work and I like the fact that this deals with conduct and not content,” Lincolnton City Councilman Dr. Martin Eaddy said. “This has been characterized as a preaching issue, but it is not a preaching issue, it’s a disturbance issue. In my opinion, it’s a safety issue because I’ve seen some of things that (Jarrett) saw and one of these days we’re going to have 40,000 people downtown and there’s going to be a fight. With everybody owning a gun these days and carrying it either concealed or not concealed, a fight could get out of hand in a hurry, so I think that we need to make sure that our folks who come to these festivals are safe.”

The Lincolnton City Council will hold a public hearing regarding the proposed ordinance amendments during the meeting scheduled for Dec. 7. The city council will hold its next regular monthly meeting on Nov. 2 at 7 p.m. inside City Hall, located at 114 West Sycamore Street in Lincolnton.

Image courtesy of Michelle T. Bernard

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