Yet again, someone is complaining that those demons at the City of Phoenix are trampling on their religious rights.
And yet again, the city has to explain what actually happened.
This religious persecution story originates from the Rutherford Institute -- which has been helping perpetuate Pastor Michael Salman's story -- explaining that it has "come to the defense of a Phoenix resident who was told she could not hand out free bottles of cold water to passersby on a public sidewalk during a 'First Friday' festival as a means of exercising her Christian beliefs."
In a letter to the Phoenix City Attorney, Rutherford Institute president John Whitehead says a woman named Dana Crow-Smith and her Christian friends gathered at one of the First Friday events to "publicly express her Christian faith and engage willing passers-by in conversations about their religious beliefs."
Crow-Smith brought along a cooler full of water bottles, heeding the Good Book's advice found in Matthew 10:42: "And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward."
Then a Phoenix "Neighborhood Preservation Inspector" showed up.
That inspector told Crow-Smith that she needed a permit to give away water, according to Whitehead's description of events, which he describes as a "completely unjustified interference with an act of charity by a private citizen."
Whitehead contends the city violated Crow-Smith's rights on several accounts, including a couple constitutional violations. In the letter, he demands an apology from the city, as well as a garuntee that Crow-Smith is allowed to hand out her water, and make all the law-enforcement officials in the city undergo special training on the matter.
"It is beyond comprehension that local government officials would interfere with citizens performing such a basic act of charity as giving water to the thirsty in your City," he says. "The Rutherford Institute will take any and all means to ensure that the citizens of Phoenix are liberated from the ever-tightening jaws of what appears to be a growing police state in Phoenix."
The City of Phoenix provided New Times with a "fact sheet" of what happened, which doesn't include hating Christians.
The inspector came into contact with Crow-Smith because she was distributing religious materials and the water from private property on the corner of 1st Street and Roosevelt, which was not her private property.
"At no time did the city attempt to limit in any way Ms. Crow-Smith's communication of religious beliefs," the document says. "Staff explained that water or food could not be given away unless they had a mobile vending license, which other vendors at the event have obtained."
The Rutherford Institute also noted that Crow-Smith received the explanation of needing a vending license, but claimed it didn't apply to her.
From city code (Chapter 10, Article 10-160):
Mobile vending unit means any motorized or non-motorized vehicle, trailer, kiosk, pushcart, stand, display, blanket, ground covering or other device designed to be portable and not permanently attached to the ground from which any goods, wares, or merchandise other than food are peddled, vended, sold, served, displayed, offered for sale or given away. This includes any display consisting solely of the goods, wares or merchandise being peddled, sold, served, displayed or offered for sale.
Agree with the code or not, having a cooler -- which happens to be a "device designed to be portable" -- full of water that is being "given away" would seem to apply to everyone, not just those motivated by the Bible.
The city's document continues to explain that Crow-Smith wasn't even cited -- she was informed of the code, and the city said she agreed to stop handing out water.
Later that night, city staff found Crow-Smith on private property again, and giving out water, again.
"The city encourages Ms. Crow-Smith to fully and safely exercise her constitutional rights within the confines of the public sidewalk - a public forum," the document says. "Distributing free water within the public sidewalk is allowed under the city's sidewalk vending ordinance."
The Rutherford Institute demanded a response to its letter by the end of business today.
City spokeswoman Toni Maccarone tells New Times that the city's law department will be following up with them today.
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