- Associated Press - Friday, July 25, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - A Des Moines man wants a federal judge to order Iowa State Fair officials to allow him to preach at the fairgrounds without the risk of being arrested for trespassing.

Jason Powell filed a lawsuit in federal court in Des Moines last month and arguments were held Thursday in the case, the Des Moines Register reported (https://dmreg.co/1xbPMdv ).

Powell says fair officials violated his constitutional rights last year when they banned him from the fairgrounds after he twice carried a sign and attempted to evangelize to arriving fairgoers. He wants the judge to issue an order declaring the sidewalks outside of the fairgrounds public property and that it’s unconstitutional to ban religious expression on the perimeter of the fairgrounds,

He also seeks damages that would serve “as an important vindication of his constitutional rights” and attorney fees. Powell wants the judge to rule prior to the beginning of this year’s fair, which starts Aug. 7.

Fair officials say the sign Powell was carrying violates their rules on prohibiting signs attached to poles that could become weapons, and that they have the right to enforce safety rules.

“Public interest is best served by returning free expression of ideas to public sidewalks outside of Iowa State Fair, allowing citizens to participate in the marketplace of ideas,” according to court documents written by Powell’s attorney, Nathan Kellum with the Memphis, Tennessee-based Center for Religious Expression.

Powell is identified as a Christian who seeks opportunities to share with others “the belief that we all need Jesus Christ as our savior.”

Fair officials also argued that people had to walk around Powell into the street last year as he stood in two of the busiest entrances to the fairgrounds presenting a safety hazard.

“Powell can express his religious views on the fairgrounds so long as he does not interfere with or impede the orderly flow of fairgoers,” assistant attorney general Jeffrey Peterzalek said in court documents. Peterzalek is representing fair officials and the Iowa State Patrol, whose officers issued Powell an ejection notice.

“With more than a million people visiting the fair each year, maintaining the flow of people throughout the fairgrounds becomes a paramount concern,” he said.


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

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