High Court Overturns Street Preacher Conviction

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The South Carolina Supreme Court has overturned the conviction of a street preacher arrested for speaking against homosexuality.

A Greenville, S.C., city ordinance made it illegal for anyone to "molest or disturb any person by the making of obscene remarks or such remarks and actions as would humiliate, insult, or scare any person."

The high court ruled the law was too vague and could be used to restrict free speech.

"This provision is subjective because the words that humiliate, insult, or scare one person may not have the same effect on another person," Justice Costa Pleicones wrote. "Therefore, people of common intelligence may be forced to guess at the provision's meaning and may differ as to its applicability."

Joseph Bane and another man were arrested in 2007 and accused of shouting at a lesbian couple on a street corner in downtown Greenville. Two of the women testified that Bane had yelled a slur at them and said "you will burn in hell," according to court documents.

Since Bane's conviction, Greenville has changed its public disturbance ordinance. The section ruled unconstitutional by the court has been removed, but the city added another section, ruling that people with special events permits will not be subject to the other parts of the public disturbance ordinance.

Ron McKinney, Greenville's city attorney, said Monday he respected the court's decision but stood by the city's contention that people deserve protection from disturbances on city streets.

"We have no objection to street preachers coming on the streets of Greenville and preaching all they want. They do that regularly," McKinney said. "We just see some value in protecting the people who are using the sidewalk for its intended purpose."

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