A Tennessee grandfather has threatened to file a lawsuit after the city reportedly prohibited him from reading his Bible on a public sidewalk without a permit.
On Wednesday, First Liberty and the Center for Religious Expression (CRE) sent a letter to the City of Sweetwater, Tennessee on behalf of Paul Johnson urging officials to stop using an old city ordinance that prohibits anyone from reading the Bible in public without the city's permission.
"I was shocked that a city had a law banning anyone from reading the Bible on a public sidewalk without the city's permission. All I want to do is tell people about the love of Jesus by reading my Bible, but I was worried I might be arrested if I tried," Johnson said in a statement.
Chelsey Youman, counsel for First Liberty, told CBN News that Johnson wanted to share the Gospel at a solar eclipse event in Sweetwater in August, but police told him that he is now allowed to express any of his views without a permit.
"So after that, he went to go get a permit from the city recorder's office, and they denied him. So essentially, the city of Sweetwater, Tennessee, bans all public expression on any of their public sidewalks, which is unconstitutional," Younan said.
Johnson, a bus driver, has been able to read the Bible out loud without incident at previous Tennessee events, including town festivals and University of Tennessee football games.
The letter noted that Johnson decided to apply for a permit to speak at another festival, but a city official said that he was not eligible to receive a permit.
Johnson's lawyers have demanded that Sweetwater provide "written assurance" that Johnson will be allowed to express his religious beliefs at future events without requiring him to obtain an "unconstitutional permit." They have threatened to pursue legal action if the city does not respond within three weeks.
Younan contended that Johnson does not need permission from the government to share his faith in public, adding that the "First Amendment is permission enough" for anyone in the U.S. to peacefully read the Bible out loud in a public sidewalk.
In a voice mail to CBN News, Recorder Jessica Morgan claimed that Johnson was asked to leave the area because he was using a voice amplifier during an event that was already scheduled and that several witnesses have complained that the bus driver had used derogatory names to refer to young women and girls.
She went on to say that "Sweetwater is not anti-religious" and "would never be against anyone reading the Bible publicly."