HONOLULU – Maui County (“County”) is again in federal court, accused of violating the free speech rights of a Maui pastor and his wife. In October, Pastor Strat Goodhue and his wife, Doreen, were peacefully handing out religious materials on the public sidewalk outside the Maui Fair when a Maui Police Department (“MPD”) Officer ordered them to leave. When Pastor Goodhue asked a second Officer whether this was legal, the Officer replied that it was – and, worse, that Pastor and Mrs. Goodhue could also be ejected from other public sidewalks nearby (including in front of the police station) if they attempted to distribute religious literature.
The Goodhues did as instructed by the police, but had strong concerns about the actions of MPD and sought legal help from the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii Foundation (“ACLU”). The ACLU and the law firm of Davis Levin Livingston filed a federal court lawsuit on January 7, 2014 and reached out to the County to discuss settling the case quickly and with minimal expense. The County rejected this attempt to resolve this matter at an early stage, such that litigation will continue.
Pastor Goodhue said: “Part of our mission is spreading God’s word. The Maui Fair gives us an opportunity to spread our message to thousands of people on Maui – no other event gives us the same kind of chance to connect with so many people and spread the joy we’ve found through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and to obey God’s command to communicate to everyone about Him and His love and mercy. All we are doing is offering people a Gospel tract. We don’t try to coerce anyone into taking one. The police ordered us to leave, and we complied, but it just felt wrong. I reflected on it and thought: ‘Is this right? Can they really do this?’”
Matthew Winter, with the law firm Davis Levin Livingston, added: “The fact is that the sidewalk is public space, and under the First Amendment, all are free to express their opinions there. While government may set some restrictions on the time, place and manner of speech in order to protect public safety, they are not allowed to unilaterally squash the voice of peaceful, law abiding demonstrators. Pastor and Mrs. Goodhue did the right thing in obeying the commands of MPD officers, but those commands were unconstitutional – and so today we are in court to make sure this kind of thing doesn’t happen again.”
This is the second federal lawsuit charging First Amendment violations that has faced Maui County in just a few months – and, likewise, the second time in just a few months that Maui County has ignored the ACLU’s suggestion to resolve matters early before incurring substantial attorneys’ fees and litigation expenses. In September 2013, the ACLU and the County settled a case involving unconstitutional County rules that prohibited holding signs along public roadways. As part of the settlement, Maui County agreed to revise its rules and practices. ACLU of Hawaii Senior Staff Attorney Daniel Gluck noted: “The Constitution exists to put limits on government, and all government officials are sworn to uphold it. Just a few months ago, we had to bring a lawsuit against Maui County because of its illegal policies on free expression on the roadways, for marches and sign waving. The fact that we now have to file a similar case concerning sidewalks, just to get the County to comply with the First Amendment, is of great concern to us and should be of great concern to all who reside on or visit the Valley Isle.”