Lincolnton street preachers say ordinance aimed at stopping them is unconstitutional

LINCOLNTON, N.C. — Two street preachers in Lincolnton say a city's ordinance targeting them is unconstitutional.

Brothers Jeffrey and Jeremy Shook told Channel 9 in their first TV interview that they don't mean to offend with their preaching.

“The truth is going to offend people,” Jeremy Shook said.

Lincolnton city leaders’ fight to silence the aggressive street preachers has led to a new fight in court. Attorneys for two street preachers said their clients' constitutional rights are being stamped out, and they're suing to overturn the city's ordinance.

[Lincolnton street preachers accused of being too aggressive]

However, leaders said businesses will leave if the street preachers stay.

It's a battle over free speech that Eyewitness News reporter Ken Lemon has covered for the last two years.

The Shooks have been called loud, rude, insulting and provoking.

They say they were called by God to preach, and they prefer downtown events because there are more people, often people legally drinking alcohol, which is a sin, according to the brothers.

They use harsh terms, but say they never curse or single people out.

"We preach against fornication, adultery, drunkenness, things like that, and if somebody's involved in that, of course, they are going to be offended,” Jeffrey Shook said.

The Shooks say they have a right to preach at any public place.

"That is what's called a traditional public forum in law,” Jeremy Shook said.

The attorney at the National Center for Life and Liberty said Lincolnton city leaders need to back off them and get rid of the ordinance written to target them.

Attorney Barbara Wheeler has helped the brothers file the federal suit.

"Just because, you know, they don't agree with what the Bible says, they can't shut down the free speech rights of those individuals who believe that their religion requires them to go out on the street and preach," Wheeler said on the phone from Texas.

She said the law was written to single out the brothers, who often preach during downtown events.

Jeffrey Shook was given a warning in May and charged in June under the ordinance of endangering the comfort, health and peace.

They said they weren’t blocking anyone's path, singling out or insulting anyone.

"Attack on a preacher of the word of God on the street,” Jeffrey Shook said.

The judge dismissed the charge saying a portion of the ordinance is vague, so the City Council altered it.

"Unfortunately, in our country, the only way to teach City Council a lesson is to sue them," Wheeler said.

Downtown business leaders said they don't object to the preaching, but they object to the shouting and public shaming.

"These street preachers have a tendency to be obnoxious and yell, and they scare people's kids," said Ken Kindly, former Chamber of Commerce executive director.

Opponents said this is not Godly, it's threatening

"It's not really what they are saying, it's more the delivery," business owner Betty Floor said.

Floor is the incoming head of the Downtown Development Association.

She said the brothers are most disruptive during events that draw people to downtown businesses.

She said if the brothers win their suit, they could discourage visitors from fun events that build the economy.

"It could definitely hurt our downtown business," Floor said.

The mayor, who is listed in the suit, said he can't comment on pending litigation, but he said that attorneys for N.C. League of Municipalities will handle their legal defense.

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