- Associated Press - Saturday, July 5, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - An Iowa man has filed a federal lawsuit accusing security guards of violating his constitutional free speech rights last year when they ordered him to stop preaching on public sidewalks just outside the Iowa State Fair.

Jason Powell, of Des Moines, hopes the lawsuit will deter officials from trying to keep him from preaching outside this year’s state fair, The Des Moines Register reported (http://dmreg.co/1m32FoL ) Saturday.

Powell’s lawsuit, filed in June, says he had been on a public sidewalk, wearing a T-shirt and holding a sign with Christian messages, outside the state fairgrounds for two days before he was approached by a security guard Aug. 15 and told to go to the other side of the street or be arrested.

The next day, on a public sidewalk outside a different gate, Powell says he was again approached by security, this time detained and photographed by an Iowa State Patrol trooper who said he was trespassing. Powell was then given an “ejection notice” that barred him from going to the fairgrounds for any reason, according to the lawsuit.

After the incident, Powell’s attorney wrote a letter to the Iowa State Patrol and the Iowa attorney general’s office, but got no response, the lawsuit says. Powell now wants a judge to send a message to Iowa State Fair and law enforcement officials.

“I hope my free speech rights will not be violated,” Powell said in an email to the Register. “I want to be able to share the Gospel. I want the lost to hear the truth so the truth can set them free.”

Powell’s attorney is Nate Kellum, chief counsel for the Memphis, Tennessee-based Center for Religious Expression. He said the case is a clear-cut violation of Powell’s freedom of speech.

“If you have a right to walk in that area, you should have a right to talk in that area,” Kellum said. “We firmly believe that his constitutional rights were violated because he was not allowed to share his views in a public place simply because they did not like what he was saying.”

Iowa State Fair officials referred questions to the Iowa attorney general’s office. An official for the attorney general’s office declined to comment for the newspaper, citing pending litigation.

A hearing for the lawsuit has not been set. The state has until Monday to file its response to Powell’s complaint.

This year’s Iowa State Fair is Aug. 7-17.

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Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com

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