Evangelist sues after being booted out of N.C. state park

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Rodney Keister is the founder of “Evangelism Mission.” He’s seen here preaching at Bloomsburg University on Aug. 28, 2019. SCREENGRAB FROM EVANGELISM MISSION VIDEO

An evangelical minister from Pennsylvania is suing the city of Greensboro after a private contractor that runs city parks ejected him from a park where he was singing and preaching the Gospel, the Charlotte Observer reports.

Rodney Keister, the founder of “Evangelism Mission,” a nonprofit that shares “the Christian faith in open public areas throughout the country,” says his constitutional freedoms were abridged. According to a complaint filed Feb. 7 in federal court he was evangelizing with his daughter at LeBauer Park in Greensboro when the incident occurred.

City attorney Charles “Chuck” Watts told McClatchy News on Feb. 10 that the city doesn’t run LeBauer Park. It’s operated by a private organization called Greensboro Downtown Parks Inc., he said. The dispute was between Keister and GDPI and not city officials, Watts said.

According to information in the complaint, Keister travels the country preaching in public places by giving away Gospel tracts, holding signs bearing Bible verses, singing, preaching and having one-on-one conversations.

His mission does not involve gathering large crowds, blocking traffic, seeking donations or any sort of membership or soliciting signatures, Keister’s attorneys said in the complaint.

“Keister understands some people might disagree with his religious message, but he does not seek to offend anyone or cause a disturbance,” the lawsuit states.

According to the park rules posted online, “disruption of the peace or any other negative behavior” and “the distribution and/or posting of flyers or other marketing materials and solicitations of any kind” are explicitly prohibited.

On Sept. 12, Keister was handing out Christian literature, holding signs and singing gospel music with his daughter in the park when GDPI’s executive director approached him, according to the complaint, and asked whether Keister had gotten permission “for expressive activity.”

The director informed him of park rules prohibiting solicitation, told him and his daughter to leave, and “confirmed LeBauer Park is city-owned, but added the park is privately managed,” the lawsuit states.

Keister then called 911, believing his right to free speech was being infringed, according to the complaint.

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