Posted by: emilysuzanneclark | October 1, 2012

Exiled from Bourbon: All speech of a social, political, or religious nature between the hours of sunset and sunrise

“All speech on Bourbon Street between the hours of sunset and sunrise of a social, political or religious nature. It’s the religious nature that brought the ordinance to our attention in this case,” ACLU of Louisiana Senior Staff Attorney Justin Harrison told a local New Orleans news station. Last October, the city of New Orleans passed an ordinance banning speech “of a social, political, or religious nature” from Bourbon Street from sunset to sunrise. In short, it’s an ordinance against what the city class “aggressive solicitation.” During this past year’s Southern Decadence (a week long celebration in late August/early September including parades and parties), some of the first arrests of those in violation were made. Nine arrests in all were made. And now, those arrested are responding to the law with the law.

Naturally, this has riled up a lot of discussion regarding religious freedom, free speech, and perceived hostility towards religion in public spaces. Some have called it “nothing other than religious persecution.” Not surprising, The Blaze has something similar to say about it (though I have to say that the Men’s Health advertisement for testosterone tricks accompanied by a busty blonde that greeted me on the story’s webpage was an interesting juxtaposition with the story’s tone). Dissent from the ordinance has also come from those the preachers are aggressively soliciting. John Hill, the head of Forum For Equality Louisiana (“An organization that unites Louisiana lesbians and gay men in political matters”) chimed in on the ordinance and the arrest of the local preachers, “My gosh, it’s certainly a waste of their time. But they certainly have a right to say it.”

There are different levels of intensity of these street preachers. In the video below, the narrator explains how Raven includes the more “hardcore guys” and that they are “a little radical.” (On the Raven blog, you can see video of their encounter with the NOPD).

It will be interesting to see if the ordinance is repealed. It certainly isn’t the first time that a New Orleans city ordinance has banned certain practices from certain city spaces. One of my favorite city ordinances (Ordinance 13,485 passed in January of 1897) deemed it “unlawful for any public prostitute or woman notoriously abandoned to lewdness to occupy, inhabit, live or sleep in any house, room or closet situation without the following limits: South side of Customhouse street from Basin to Robertson street, east side of Robertson street from Customhouse to Saint Louis street, from Robertson to Basin street.” In effect, this law created a legal prostitution district known as Storyville (named after the ordinance’s main creator). The idea behind the red-light district was to segregate vice to a small part of the city with the hope of eventually eradicating it. And it’s worth noting that the late 1890s primarily Protestant and white city council placed “The District” (as Storyville was also called) in what had historically been a black neighborhood in downtown New Orleans.

Sister Gertrude Morgan did some street preaching in the Quarter from the 1950s-1980 and spent time shouting scripture from various intersections (no doubt including Bourbon Street corners). And as I’ve explored before, she had some unique ideas regarding religion and space—namely, she used New Orleans as her visual template for New Jerusalem. Space has always been significant to religion in New Orleans. I could talk your ear off about various creations of sacred space across all sorts of time periods and city quadrants, but this may be the first time that I’ve found a case of using the law to create religion-free space in the city.

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