It’s Officially Okay To Preach Against the Gays on Bourbon Street Again

Where there are hot gays, there’s bound to be a little fire and brimstone. New Orleans’ queer response to Mardi Gras, Southern Decadence, draws upwards of 120,000 gays to the city. Considering that the festival takes place in the Bible Belt, religious crusaders are pretty much a given. Home to a dozen or so gay bars, the four-block circle within the French Quarter is of interest to many intent on spreading the word of God.

NOLA’S street preachers were already receiving national attention long before this year’s festivities began. In late August, Reverend Grant Storm, one of SoDec’s biggest opponents was convicted for obscenity after being caught mastubating precariously close to a children’s playground.

southern decadence

During Southern Decadence, eight preachers exemplifying everything that Jesus would not do were also apprehended. All men between the ages of 20 and 52, they ignored NOPD requests to turn off their bullhorns. Reports confirm that the men were yelling homophobic slurs at LGBTQ pedestrians. Wearing neon “Fear God” tees and toting “God Hates Homos” signs, the group vaguely resembled a poor man’s Westboro Baptist. A pastor unaffiliated with the eight was also arrested under suspicion of battery after allegedly punching an officer who tried to take away his microphone.

A fellow street preacher known as “Bible Brian” uploaded footage of the incident to YouTube–complete with a cryptic, apocalyptic soundtrack:

It might seem as if these men were merely justifiably arrested for disturbing the peace, not to mention being certified a**holes void of any decency or Southern hospitality. However, they were apprehended in conjunction with New Orleans’ “aggressive solicitation” ordinance, which instructs people to not “loiter or congregate on Bourbon Street for the purpose of disseminating any social, political or religious message between the hours of sunset and sunrise.”

This is where things become a bit complicated.

In theory, the year-old “aggressive solicitation” ordinance has good intentions. Bourbon Street has never really been a bastion of peace and tranquility. The law seems to be designed for nighttime crowd control and ensuring that the only shouting is of the happy, “Laissez les bons temps rouler” variety. Groups could stand to put the breaks on their community organizing skills for the nighttime hours.

While the ordinance does not discriminate against a particular social, religious or political group, none of this changes the fact that it is in gross violation of the First Amendment. After sundown, those handing out cute HRC equal sign stickers could potentially be silenced right alongside those yelling threats of Sodom and Gomorrah. As long as the ordinance is in place, any group wanting to say anything after dusk runs the risk of being arrested.

Last week, Pastor Paul Gros, another street preacher, took note of the “aggressive solicitation” ordinance’s unconstitionality and sued the city of New Orleans:

The lawsuit said Gros was a “professing Christian” and pastor of Vieux Carre Assembly of God Church in the French Quarter, a block from Bourbon Street. Gros has been preaching on the French Quarter’s streets for 30 years and doesn’t intend to harass anyone or solicit any funds, his suit said. “Because Pastor Gros firmly believes a large number of people found on Bourbon Street at night desperately need to have saving faith in Jesus Christ, he wants to go there at that time and share the gospel message with them,” the suit said.

via THE TIMES-PICAYUNE

Within 24 hours, a judge had ruled in favor of Gros and Raven Ministries, placing a ban on the ordinance, effectively allowing pastors to do as they please after dusk:

A federal judge has temporarily blocked enforcement of a city law that was recently used to arrest Christian evangelists who were preaching on Bourbon Street during Southern Decadence, the annual celebration of gay culture in the French Quarter.

Part of the city’s recently enacted “aggressive solicitation” ordinance orders people not to “loiter or congregate on Bourbon Street for the purpose of disseminating any social, political or religious message between the hours of sunset and sunrise.”

“That’s no longer in effect,” American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Justin Harrison said.

While the United States Constitution overwhelmingly protects hate speech, the homophobic slurs New Orleans street pastors have a penchant for belting may very well fall under the category of “fighting words,” an unprotected form of hate speech which is “used to incite hatred or violence from a target audience” (read: the gays). Unlike 2011’s Snyder v. Phelps case, where the supreme court found that the Westboro Baptist Church’s actions fell squarely within the bounds of freedom of speech, the pastors on Burbon street appear to have talked to specific people instead of yelling at the group as a whole. Moreover, they were preaching in a street that is notoriously filled with intoxicated bar patrons. It’s worth asking what exactly their motivation is (do they really think drunk party-goers are going to decide that what they need right then and there is Jesus or is there the possibility that they hoped for some more sinister outcome?) and whether or not the presence of alcohol plays a role in deciding whether or not an action falls under the Fighting Words Doctrine. The case to either keep, modify or scrap NOLA’s “aggressive solicitation” ordinance will continue October 1.

Profile photo of fonseca

Sarah Fonseca is from tiny Georgia towns yet always finds herself in big cities. An essayist and journal-keeper by heart, her work has been featured in Lambda Review, Lavender Review, Diverse Voices Quarterly, and Thought Catalog. Her ultimate goal in life is to get back to that seven year-old place where everything was backwards ballcaps, long hair, and red rover.

fonseca has written 47 articles for us.

16 Comments

  1. Thumb up 4

    Please log in to vote

    I feel like they’re a lot more likely to find a punch to the face than a willing listener, especially amongst the drunk n raucous.

    like don’t ruin my party with your preaching

    the question that always comes to my mind is honestly don’t those folks have anything better to do?

  2. Thumb up 4

    Please log in to vote

    AS a former NOLA resident (moved only because I had to) I wonder how much the ban affected NOLA residents. The only times I ever went to the quarter were parades and festivals (the red dress run is a festival right?). Decadence is 90% gay men so I don’t count that. BAsically, most people walking up and down Burbon aren’t from NOLA or Southern LA. These preachers are as much of a side show as the scantily clad women in front of the strip clubs.

    This is not to say that their words aren’t harmful, I just wonder if the people of NOLA felt a difference when the preachers got shut down. I firmly believe in the 1st amendment and think those assholes have as much right to tell me about Jesus as I have to tell them to fuck off.

    • Thumb up 0

      Please log in to vote

      Yeah. I live in NOLA and I rarely go to the French Quarter. It’s full of gutter punks, tourists and a few residents. I only go there when absolutely necessary, like festivals or when a band I like is playing at HOB. In all the (maybe 50?) times I’ve been to the quarter, I’ve never seen preachers. But if they stay on Bourbon, I almost always steer clear of that street when I’m in the Quarter. If you’re a resident, you only go there unless you have a friend in town and want to show them infamous Bourbon St. or you’re going to Bourbon St. Pub (gay bar) which I stopped doing 5+ years ago. But I would have to agree…the preachers are just part of the whole spectacle. They’re fun to look at, walk past, ignore or make fun of. If someone wants to waste their time coming out of their house/church/closet and yelling at me that God hates me, I really don’t care. I’ve been to Pride festivals and it’s really no different. They’re just a waste of space.

    • Thumb up 2

      Please log in to vote

      I feel like that comment was unclear. this just sounds like the usual bullshit the queers have to deal with on the regs, which sucks and hurts and gets old. but it could also be looked at as an INVITATION to create vibrant, beautiful communities (we have), and in this specific case, make sure the party on the streets of New Orleans, that will attract pastors who are inclined towards hate-speech, is good and loud enough so love/joy overwhelms the stuff that might trigger/hurt people.

    • Thumb up 1

      Please log in to vote

      The way the ordinance is worded makes it so that it is a content based restriction, which is slightly more ok than a viewpoint based one, but this one would be hard to justify as it is currently worded. They could probably ban bullhorns no problem, but actually banning attempts to spread social, political, or religious messages is grossly against the 1st Amendment.

      Also, I don’t want to do a second post to respond to the article generally, so I’m just going to give my other views here as well. Even if this sort of obnoxious preaching would be considered fighting words (it wouldn’t, the first time that the court held something to be unprotected as fighting words was also the last, and if the Westboro assholes didn’t change that nothing will) the 1st Amendment is weird in that you can argue that even though your specific speech falls into an unprotected category the fact that the law could conceivably ban protected action makes the statute void.

      • Thumb up 0

        Please log in to vote

        I haven’t looked at the actual wording of this particular regulation, but because the speech is only not allowed at night and only pertains to traditional public forums, that leaves open during the day for when they could still do the speech which goes in its favor. The big question, to me, is whether it’s narrowly tailored to serve an important government interest, I think they would have a hard time convincing a judge of that.

        The speech definitely wouldn’t be considered fighting words, that’s a pretty hard standard to meet.

      • Thumb up 0

        Please log in to vote

        Yeah, I think the wording is troubling. If it were simply any sort of loud street rallies during a certain time of day, that would be fine, but I think the fact that they single out political and religious opinions means it falls afoul of the First Amendment, even if they don’t single out particular viewpoints.

        I do think that you can single out the manner of political/religious preaching to some degree, though. I know that in public schools, kids are allowed to talk about their religious beliefs and even proselytize (so as long as they don’t disrupt class or other required school activites in some way by doing it) but they can’t use religion as an excuse for harassment. But speech in public schools has been traditionally treated differently than on a public street, because of that whole “disruptive” issue; for example, hate speech has traditionally been restricted from public schools because it’s considered both a safety concern and a distraction. Whereas, when it comes to public areas, hate speech has traditionally been considered constitutional so long as it’s not targeted at any one specific person.

  3. Thumb up 0

    Please log in to vote

    It was my group that was arrested and who ever wrote this article does not get any facts before reporting (if you wish to call this reporting.)
    A-We had many banners/signs flying not just anti-homosexual signs.
    B-The person arrested was not a pastor, where did you get that?
    C-The charges were ‘punching someone’ is false as we had 2 video cameras going on during the arrest and that does not match the charges. Investigate before putting your foot in mouth.
    D-You do understand this is New Orleans police and this does happen but after our day in court they will all be dropped.
    E-We did not spend time yelling ‘homophobic slurs’ as you say but spent more time on Bourbon Street with the drunks
    F-The arrest was on where the homosexual bars were but on Bourbon Street where drunken fornicators were, so stop with the homosexual are the victims
    G-Grant Storm was not arrested in late Aug, again check your facts
    H-And if you wish to bring up ‘hate speech’ we have much video of homosexuals yelling this and pushing and pouring drinks. I can give you ‘hate speech’ so do not go there.

    This lifestyle is considered an abomination and reprobate.

  4. Thumb up 1

    Please log in to vote

    Here we go just had to give my two cents seeing as this article is about my city.

    Quite honestly, having lived in the quarter (a block off of Bourbon no less) and having been down Bourbon street at all hours of the day and night no one pays any attention to those nut-bags in the street anyways. They are, in my opinion more for shock value and effect.

    I find them quite entertaining as well. Business men from Iowa and members of bachlorette parties mixed with all the other tourists (because that’s really what Bourbon Street is for) could hardly care less about the message being preached.

  5. Thumb up 0

    Please log in to vote

    I was wondering where the protesters were this year, honestly I only have ever noticed anyone preaching on Bourbon during Decadence and then they’re just part of the crazy scenery, a pitstop to make out in front of and maybe get a picture with, I like looking at their signs and seeing how many categories of sinner I fall into.
    I wonder if anyone else has been arrested under that law, I understand in theory it violates the first amendment and cute HRC stickers should be given out at all hours of the day, but honestly theres not much good handed out on bourbon street after dark.

Contribute to the conversation...

You must be logged in to post a comment.