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Pamphleteer wins legal fight against Cumming

City admits it was wrong to jail man

POSTED: March 9, 2008 5:02 a.m.

Fred Baumann said he was stunned when he was arrested for distributing comic book-style gospel tracts of the life of Jesus Christ outside the Taste of Forsyth festival at the Cumming fairgrounds last April.

"I was very surprised," said Baumann, 68, who had been handing out similar religious tracts at public events for nearly 40 years without a challenge.

On Wednesday, the city of Cumming agreed that it shouldn’t have locked up Baumann on violation of a city parade and demonstration ordinance and will pay a monetary settlement and Baumann’s legal expenses, according to an agreement filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia in Gainesville.

Baumann said he will receive $2,500 more than any legal expenses incurred by lawyers for the Alliance Defense Fund, a First Amendment legal advocacy group that took on his case.

Baumann will send $1,000 of the money to a missionary in Honduras and use the remainder to purchase more gospel tracts, he said.

"God works in wonderful and mysterious ways," Baumann said, adding, "I didn’t do this for the money. I thought it was important for civil liberties to do this. I think it’s important that you reserve the right of free speech, no matter what it is. Not only for Christian tracts, but for anyone who has a free speech issue."

The stipulated dismissal and settlement agreement notes that the city rescinded its parade and demonstration ordinance soon after a November order from Judge William C. O’Kelley.

Cumming Police Chief Mike Eason used the ordinance as a reason to arrest Baumann after he was seen distributing religious literature near the city fairgrounds on the afternoon of April 22.

According to court filings, Eason demanded Baumann and another man leave the area because they were "demonstrating without a permit."

When Baumann asked the police chief if he had a constitutional right to peaceably distribute religious literature on a public sidewalk, Eason reportedly replied, "Well, I guess (you) want to get arrested."

Baumann was arrested and remained in the city jail until two days later. He was convicted in Cumming Municipal Court of violating the city’s parade and demonstration ordinance and sentenced to time already served. A Forsyth County superior court judge later reversed the conviction.

In his November order granting an injunction against the city that would temporarily prohibit enforcement of the ordinance, O’Kelley wrote that "the Supreme Court has steadfastly protected the right of pamphleteers. It has invalidated bans involving public streets and sidewalks."

O’Kelley also wrote that he has "little difficulty concluding (Baumann) suffered an injury-in-fact. He was arrested, jailed for, and convicted of distributing religious literature on a public sidewalk without a permit."

The city rescinded its ordinance soon after O’Kelley’s order was issued.

In Wednesday’s agreement, the city acknowledges that Baumann does not need a permit to hand out literature on city sidewalks. The city also agreed to pay Baumann an unspecified amount "to settle his alleged violation of his constitutional rights," as well as attorney fees.

Eason and Cumming Mayor Ford Gravitt did not immediately return phone messages seeking comment on the settlement Wednesday.

Alliance Defense Fund senior legal counsel David Cortman said in a statement that "Christians shouldn’t be discriminated against for expressing their beliefs. They have the same First Amendment rights as anyone else in America."

Baumann said he was treated "kindly" by city officials.

"Especially Chief Eason," Baumann said. "He is a very good police chief. I’m just happy we can pass out gospel tracts at the Taste of Forsyth, and it’s all resolved."


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