Alabaster, Seventh-day Adventists reach temporary agreement

Published 4:00 pm Wednesday, July 18, 2012

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

Alabaster will temporarily allow a group participating in the Seventh-day Adventists’ Summer Student Missionary Program to go door-to-door in the city “without interference from the city,” City Attorney Jeff Brumlow said after a July 18 hearing.

The hearing was held in front of U.S. District Court Judge Karon Bowdre at the Hugo L. Black U.S. Courthouse in downtown Birmingham.

During the hearing, Alabaster agreed to allow the students participating in the missionary program to conduct their program in the city while Alabaster and the Seventh-day Adventists’ wait on a final ruling from federal court. Brumlow said the final ruling likely will come by March 2013.

“We didn’t want to penalize these college kids who are conducting their scholarship work while we sort everything out with the church,” Brumlow said.

The hearing came a few days after the South Central Conference of Seventh-day Adventists filed a lawsuit claiming Alabaster allegedly imposes “substantial restraints and burdens” on door-to-door solicitors.

The complaint 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 the 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.

Brumlow previously said the student was issued the citation because the student allegedly was selling books while going door-to-door.

Through the agreement, the students will be allowed to go door-to-door, give away books and ask for donations for the church without city interference until a final order is handed down.