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Published On: Fri, Jan 30th, 2015

Luis Zapata free speech doesn’t get dropped, judge notes Eric Garner case

A Christian in New Jersey who was ticketed last year for posting a sign on his truck that cited scripture states that the prosecutor who is handling the case has refused to drop the charge because of the events in New York where protesters have questioned the judgment of police.

“The prosecutor stated that he was not going to drop the case because he wanted to respect the authority of police,” Luis Zapata, whose defense attorney spoke with the prosecution last week, told Christian News Network on Wednesday.

“Especially with the events with the police officers in New York City—the protests and the negative view of the officers—he was going to stand by the officer.”

photo Jennifer Moo via Flickr

photo Jennifer Moo via Flickr

Zapata, a Columbian-born Christian who lives just outside the town of Englewood, has posted Scripture and other messages on his vehicle as a means to witness to the public about Christ. He has conducted this practice for over two years.

“Two years ago, the Lord said to me, ‘Start praying. Go out into the streets and go preach the gospel. Put signs on your car. Tell everybody that I’m coming soon,’” he recalled.

Zapata joined area Christians in preaching the gospel and proteseting at Metropolitan Medical Associates, one of the largest abortion facilities in the state. He says they have been met with regular opposition from the Englewood Police Department.

Police threatened them with tickets and arrest for preaching on the public sidewalk, parking their car at the library across the street, or other alleged infractions.

“I feel that the city of Englewood got together with the abortion mill to try to drive us out of there by giving us petty citations,” he said.

Last August, the sign on Zapata’s truck became the latest source of contention for police.

According to Zapata, Englewood police officer Mark Van Wormer approached him as he was exiting his truck, and demanded that he removed his signs, which quoted John 8:24 and Numbers 32:23. He told Zapata that he needed a permit to display the sign on his vehicle and that he would have to take it down.

“I said, ‘Permit for what? … It’s a religious sign,’” Zapata told Christian News Network last year following the incident. “I said, ‘It’s screwed into the truck.’ And he said, ‘I don’t care. You have to take it down.’”

One of the men with Zapata then called an attorney, who advised that they move the vehicle for the time being.

“I asked the officer, ‘Can I move the truck a block away from the clinic?’ He said, ‘Move it,’” Zapata explained. “So, I got in the truck a and moved it a block away from the clinic.”

Van Wormer returned with another officer and ordered him to provide his license and registration as he proceeded to write a ticket, threatening to write a second ticket if he sees the vehicle again.

Police have now claimed the man is violating this ordinance:

“No person shall operate or park on any street any vehicle for the purpose of displaying advertising,” the ordinance reads, “provided, however, that the Council may issue temporary permits for such advertising display on vehicles for public, charitable, benevolent and religious undertakings. The Council may impose limitations and restrictions as may be conducive to the public welfare upon the issuance of temporary permits.”

But Zapata does not believe that his sign constitutes advertising.

Zapata said that he will fight for his rights no matter how long it takes as he believes that it is important that the word of God is not labeled as being “advertising.”

“What it’s going to come down to is, is the word of God advertisement or is it free speech?” he explained. “If they conclude that the word of God is advertisement, it is going to set the stage for even pastors and their local congregations to not be allowed to put up any religious symbols or any Bible verses [because] they will be considered advertisement, and they will have to charge money for that. Or, towns and cities will pass an ordinance against advertisement and they will be restricted from putting crosses, signs and Bible verses up.”

 

 

 

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About the Author

- Roxanne "Butter" Bracco began with the Dispatch as Pittsburgh Correspondent, but will be providing reports and insights from Washington DC, Maryland and the surrounding region. Contact Roxie aka "Butter" at [email protected] ATTN: Roxie or Butter Bracco

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