The street preaching of men from Old Paths Baptist Church (“OPBC”) which has created “no small stir” is a great blessing to Northfield. These street preachers, like historic Baptists, believe and act on Biblical commandment and precept as opposed to Biblical interpretation. Christ commanded his disciples “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” The disciples obeyed: “And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them.”
The book of Acts tells us that disciples continued to publicly preach and act in the name of Jesus in spite of persecution. A remnant of believers since has always openly communicated the Gospel while admired and encouraged by some but opposed, hated, lied about, and persecuted by others. Many so-called “heretics” have been put to death and persecuted by religious Jews, Roman Emperors, and established religions.
The established churches continued the persecution of “heretics” in the American colonies. However, a combination of factors and events led to the adoption of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution which protects speech in the public places such as parks and sidewalks. Should a government official or entity ignore the rights of a citizen engaged in speech in a public place and either force him to discontinue his protected speech or falsely charge him with a crime such as disorderly conduct, littering, or obstructing a passageway or highway in violation of his constitutional protections, the city, officials, and citizens involved may be sued in state or federal court.
United States Supreme Court cases clarify the parameters of First Amendment protection of public speech. The Supreme Court has declared disorderly conduct, obstructing, littering and other statutes unconstitutional as applied to protected public speech. Some relevant matters such as limits to public speech are beyond the scope of this short article. The OPBC street preachers are aware of those limits and are careful to consider the rights of others as they engage in protected speech.
All the citizens of Northfield are better off for the commotion created by the street preachers. As the Supreme Court has said:
“The vitality of civil and political institutions in our society depends on free discussion. … The right to speak freely and to promote diversity of ideas and programs is therefore one of the chief distinctions that sets us apart from totalitarian regimes. Accordingly a function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger. Speech is often provocative and challenging. It may strike at prejudices and preconceptions and have profound unsettling effects as it presses for acceptance of an idea. That is why freedom of speech, though not absolute, is nevertheless protected against censorship or punishment, unless shown likely to produce a clear and present danger of a serious substantive evil that rises far above public inconvenience, annoyance, or unrest.”