When the City of New Orleans passed a ban that kept Troy Bohn’s ministry from preaching in the famous French Quarter, the group found an unlikely ally—the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Months after the ministry’s initial run-in with New Orleans police, city council members finally lifted the ban last week.
Raven Ministries has worked on Bourbon Street since 1960. But in October 2011, the city passed a ban on disseminating “any social, political, or religious message between the hours of sunset and sunrise.” Even so, the ministry continued holding “street church” on Friday and Saturday nights. They don’t “chase people,” Bohn said. They set up shop, and talk to people who are interested.
“We’re not there to shut down a bar, we’re out there to reach people,” he said. “That just happens to be where people are in the city.”
Trouble didn’t come until this past September, when police showed up and arrested Bohn and two of his coworkers. Bohn called the ban “a blatant violation of First Amendment speech.” Police gave the evangelists a citation and held them for a couple of hours. Bohn told officers people needed to hear his message and insisted he would be back the next day.
That’s when the ACLU contacted the ministry, and said it wanted to take the case. Bohn said the man on the phone admitted he didn’t agree with the ministry, but said the city’s ordinance was a violation of the First Amendment.
Bohn said he thought it was interesting, because the ACLU is usually on the other side of cases like this, but added, “The Word says when a man’s ways please the Lord, even his enemies will be at peace with him.”
The ACLU won a restraining order against the ban in late September, and Bohn and his group have continued preaching since then. Another pastor also filed a lawsuit against the “Aggressive Solicitation Ordinance” in May 2012. The city unanimously passed a revised version of the ordinance, repealing the restrictive language, on Thursday.
Bohn emphasized the importance of his ministry, saying there’s no place like Bourbon Street to bring together a cross section of people from all walks of life. On a normal Friday night, 50,000 people crowd the street sidewalk-to-sidewalk, from all over the world. People are unusually open to talking about spiritual things, or things they wouldn’t otherwise be comfortable talking about, Bohn said. Every week, his team prays and speaks to dozens of people.
“There’s a flood of every kind of wickedness on that street and someone has to consistently go out there and show that there’s hope in the midst of that darkness,” he said.