The American Civil Liberties Union has turned a small band of street preachers into unlikely symbols of free speech – fighting, sometimes in noisy confrontations with police and casinos, for the preachers’ right to spread the gospel on the Las Vegas Strip. The alliance is an awkward one, reports the Los Angeles Times, since the preachers openly despise the ACLU, and the ACLU doesn’t think much of the preachers’ condemnations of “fornicators,” Democrats, women who seek abortions and people who have not accepted Christ as their savior. And the Las Vegas establishment doesn’t think much of the whole issue; evangelical preachers bellowing about “homos,” “porno freaks” and the devil don’t exactly fit with the anything-goes marketing scheme that has served this city well.
But the ACLU forged ahead because, the organization said, a long-percolating dispute between the casinos and the preachers threatened the sanctity of the quintessential American venue for free expression: the sidewalk. This fall, the group’s campaign resulted in a tenuous agreement among casinos, police and city leaders that allows the preachers to stay. If the agreement holds, it could mark the end of a decade-long fight to give control over the sidewalks back to the public. Courts have long held that sidewalks are constitutionally protected forums for public opinion. Generally, as long as people are doing things that are otherwise legal, they can do it on the sidewalk. Vegas being Vegas, it’s not that simple there.