A Maui pastor and his wife are suing Maui County, alleging their free speech rights were violated when a police officer ordered them to leave as they were handing out religious materials on the sidewalk outside the Maui Fair last year.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii and the law firm of Davis Levin Livingston filed the lawsuit on behalf of Strat Goodhue and his wife, Doreen.
According to the lawsuit, a fair official told the couple to leave the sidewalk and grassy area adjacent to Kanaloa Avenue as they were distributing literature near the entrance to the fair Oct. 4. They moved to another area with less foot traffic.
The next day, when they returned to the area adjacent to Kanaloa Avenue, the fair official again approached the Goodhues and ordered them to leave or be arrested, according to the lawsuit. About 15 to 20 minutes later, after Pastor Goodhue said they wouldn't leave, a police officer ordered the couple to leave because of the fair's complaint, the lawsuit says.
"All we are doing is offering people a gospel tract. We don't try to coerce anyone into taking one," Strat Goodhue said in a news release from the ACLU and Davis Levin Livingston. "The police ordered us to leave, and we complied, but it just felt wrong."
The police officer told the Goodhues that the fair had a permit for the entire area including the public sidewalks, the street and the park area outside the fenced Maui Fair grounds, according to the lawsuit.
"The fact is that the sidewalk is public space, and under the First Amendment, all are free to express their opinions there," said attorney Matthew Winter. "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."
After filing the lawsuit Jan. 7 in U.S. District Court in Honolulu, attorneys for the couple contacted the county "to discuss settling the case quickly and with minimal expense," according to their news release. The release said that the county rejected the attempt.
"We have received the complaint, and we will be responding to it," Maui County spokesman Rod Antone said Thursday. "However, it is in litigation so we can't say anything further."
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.