Be Bold, Be Strong, for the Lord thy God is with you.
A Christian man is now allowed to hand out religious tracts to passersby outside a Michigan post office after a postal worker initially threatened him with arrest if he did not immediately leave the area.
Michael Shanton peacefully distributed the religious leaflets to interested people from a sidewalk in front of the Farmington Hills, Mich., post office for about eight weeks in 2009, the Alliance Defense Fund reported.
“Shanton would sit on a bench and, as persons passed, he would ask them if they would like a religious tract,” according to a letter to the U.S. postal service from ADF attorneys. “If they refused, Shanton simply let them go without following or harassing them.”
The man never attempted to distribute the tracts inside the post office, solicit donations or ask for signatures on a petition. He simply handed tracts to people walking by.
On Sept. 24, 2009, a postal worker ordered Shanton to leave or he would be arrested. The worker said literature distribution is not allowed on federal property, according to ADF. Shanton immediately left the area for fear of arrest.
Shanton said he called the postmaster and was told he couldn’t distribute literature in front of the post office because it violated the Postal Operations Manual. The local postal officials claimed the manual prohibited people from distributing a “pamphlet or flyer” that is not an official government document.
He cited Section 124.55 of the Postal Operations Manual:
Except for official postal and other governmental notices and announcements, no handbills, flyers, pamphlets, signs, posters, placards, or other literature may be deposited on the grounds, walks, driveways, parking and maneuvering areas; exteriors of buildings and other structures; or on the floors, walks, stairs, racks, counters, desks, writing tables, window ledges, or furnishings in interior public areas on postal premises.
As a result of the arrest threat, Shanton stopped handing out the Christian tracts.
In a letter to the U.S. Postal Service, ADF attorneys argued that distribution of religious literature is protected by the First Amendment and that the sidewalk is a traditional public forum.
The Postal Service sent a March 1 response letter stating that Shanton will not be prohibited from distributing Christian literature outsidethe post office.
“Christians shouldn’t be threatened with arrest and banned from a traditional public forum for peacefully sharing their beliefs,” ADF Litigation Staff Counsel Jonathan Scruggs said in a statement. “We are pleased that the USPS has acknowledged Mr. Shanton’s constitutional right to hand outtracts outside the post office. Such an act is not a crime, and the government has no right to harass and threaten citizens for exercising their First Amendment rights in public.”