Seventh-day Adventists sue Alabaster

Published 11:19 am Monday, July 16, 2012

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

The Nashville-based South Central Conference of Seventh-day Adventists has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court claiming Alabaster allegedly imposes “substantial restraints and burdens” on door-to-door solicitors.

The complaint, which was filed by the conference on July 13, claims two of the city’s ordinances “unconstitutionally restrict the exchange of beliefs and religious principles.” The lawsuit claims one ordinance bans door-to-door soliciting and claims another ordinance “imposes significant restrictions” by requiring those soliciting in a public place to first obtain a city permit.

The conference filed the lawsuit against the city after it claimed an individual participating in the church’s Summer Student Missionary Program in Alabaster was stopped by an Alabaster police officer in late June and charged with “selling books door-to-door without a city of Alabaster permit.”

After the charge, the church suspended its Summer Student Missionary Program in Alabaster, according to the lawsuit.

Through the Summer Student Missionary Program, students travel in teams to several locations throughout the summer going door-to-door “offering free literature about the Seventh-day Adventist faith, engaging in verbal evangelism and soliciting donations” to support the program, according to court documents.

Alabaster City Attorney Jeff Brumlow said the student was issued the citation allegedly was selling books to Alabaster residents while traveling door-to-door. Brumlow said the charge came because the student did not have a license to sell items door-to-door in the city.

“If you look at the citation, his employer is listed as Family Health Education Service,” Brumlow said. “They have a website, and if you go on there you can click on books, add them to your cart and pay for them.

“If they were strictly out there spreading the gospel, we wouldn’t be here (with this lawsuit) today,” Brumlow said, claiming Alabaster has “consistently enforced these ordinances” on all door-to-door salespeople.

The lawsuit is requesting a temporary restraining order preventing Alabaster from enacting the two ordinances. U.S. District Court Judge Karon Bowdre has set a hearing on the temporary restraining order for 10 a.m. on July 18 at the Hugo L. Black U.S. Courthouse in downtown Birmingham.