Conventional financial advice for those individuals with an abundance of financial resources is that they have three people on their financial team: an experienced and knowledgeable banker, an attorney who is an expert in financial legal affairs and documents, and a savvy CPA (Certified Public Accountant). Each of these professionals brings separate and vitally needed information and protection that will ensure one’s hard-earned wealth is not foolishly squandered away in frivolous, unwise or even illegal means.
The Bible tacitly teaches this in Proverbs 11:14: “Where there is no guidance the people fall, but in abundance of counselors there is victory.” (NASB)
Christian evangelists, open-air preachers, and other believers who witness in the public areas of the United States also need an experienced team of experts on their side; one of the most helpful and needed are attorneys: those who practice civil law and those who practice criminal law.
But both civil and criminal lawyers should be experts in First Amendment law because this area is a vast and complicated one, much like the rest of the law. I have found that even among practicing civil lawyers, few are trained and have extensive experience in dealing with the intricacies and nuances of free speech rights.
I cannot overstate the importance of having both types of attorneys on board for your evangelistic efforts. From my experience, and any honest attorney will agree, a civil attorney is not well versed in criminal law and a criminal attorney is not well versed in civil law. Neither law specialists, whether they are criminal or civil, have much desire in taking on cases not in their speciality because they understand how much knowledge and experience is required to be an expert in each.
In my almost 40 years of street evangelism, and particularly since I began open-air preaching approximately 25 years ago, I have been in countless situations where the police have been called due to our evangelistic efforts. For example, the most common interaction with the police has been over the issue of using amplification while preaching outdoors. Of all the issues facing evangelists, this rates at the top for police involvement due to complaints from the public.
Then there is the often contested issue of whether or not we can hand out Gospel literature in various public venues. For example, can we hand out tracts in an event in a typical city or town that has closed off various public streets to host a special event where the public has been invited, say at a large, outdoor street fair?
Or can someone preach directly outside, with or without amplification, at a Jehovah’s Witness Convention hosted by a city’s public conference center? Does the fact that the JW’s rented the arena preclude someone from witnessing on the convention’s grounds?
These few examples are rarely cut and dry. In fact, each separate event you wish to witness and evangelize at usually brings a host of unique circumstances and legalities that require legal experts to scrutinize to determine whether or not the particular form of evangelism you wish to do is allowed by that city’s statutes.
Even this presents another unique and challenging situation. Take a typical city noise ordinance that, on its face, makes amplification in certain locations in the city illegal. The city might not have any issue with you for wanting to preach using just your natural voice, but they have a city ordinance that forbids you speaking using amplification.
Is their law constitutional? Has that law been written specifically targeting the preaching of the Gospel via amplification? Sometimes the answer is “yes.” Now, you have a law on the books, enforceable by the police. What do you do?
These are all reasons why we need to be at least somewhat knowledgeable on first amendment and criminal law. I have seen over and over again that most Christians are bullied by both the police and the public over their witnessing efforts for the main reason of silencing their public witness. All kinds of reasons, excuses and quasi-legal arguments are offered, some persuasive and legal and others pure nonsense. But how do you know? This is where experienced, knowledgeable attorneys come into play and are an invaluable tool in your evangelism toolbox. And because Christians have little knowledge in these areas, their default mode is to obey the police and end their outreach at that location, even if they have a first amendment right to be there doing what they are doing.
But attorneys are prohibitively expensive, charging hundreds of dollars an hour for their time in counseling you. This is why you need to find attorneys who are Christians who will give you advice on a “pro-bono” basis. In other words, for free. Ideally, they will understand the need to assist the Body of Christ in these kind of situations without charging them and consider it part of their ministry and service to the Lord to help out a brother and sister in need of their valuable advice.
Let me warn you: these kind of attorneys are rare. I have discovered through personal experience time and again that even attorneys who drop hints they are Christians will not spend more than the briefest amount of time with you unless you pay them substantial retainers.
But there are some, albeit few, who wish to serve the Lord by providing expert legal advice for free. I hope to write more about this in another post, but suffice to say, my desire in writing this is to convince you that the time to look for attorneys is today, before you find yourself in a situation where you might get arrested.
I have a list of law firms I’ve accumulated over the years that might be able to help you. Please drop me a note in the comments section if you need legal assistance due to your witnessing/evangelistic efforts and I will get in contact with you. You can also email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.