Thursday, April 1, 2004

Street preacher sues XU over speech

By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A self-proclaimed "street preacher" sued Xavier University on Wednesday, claiming school officials violated his free speech rights when they threatened to arrest him two years ago.

James Gilles, a traveling preacher from Northern Kentucky, accused Xavier police and administrators of preventing him from spreading his religious message outside the school's student union in October 2002.

Gilles asked a federal judge in Cincinnati to order school officials to let him speak without fear of arrest.

"Our concern is not so much what he's saying, but his right to say it," said Gilles' lawyer, David Langdon.

Gilles could not be reached, and Xavier officials said they were reviewing the lawsuit and had no comment.

In his lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, Gilles describes himself as a street preacher who has traveled to 371 college campuses in 49 states and six countries. He says his preaching style is intended to "provoke onlookers and passersby into dialog with him."

According to the suit, Xavier police objected to his preaching style and informed him that he was bothering students. A police officer and, later, Campus Police Chief Michael Couch, threatened to arrest him if he continued, the lawsuit states.

Gilles claims he was standing on a public sidewalk and that campus authorities could not legally force him to leave. He later obtained a letter from a city solicitor stating that the sidewalk was public property.

School officials were unmoved and Gilles was told he could not preach from that location.

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