Alabaster working to settle lawsuit with Seventh-day Adventists

Published 3:50 pm Wednesday, May 8, 2013

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

Alabaster Mayor Marty Handlon and City Attorney Jeff Brumlow are working to settle a lawsuit brought against the city in 2012 by the South Central Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

During its May 6 meeting, the Alabaster City Council voted unanimously to allow Handlon to “negotiate and sign all documents necessary to settle said case,” said Ward 2 Councilman Bob Hicks.

“I’ll hold my nose and second that,” Ward 4 Councilman Rick Walters said before voting in favor of the motion.

The vote came nearly a year 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.

Alabaster officials claimed the students were selling books for profit during their door-to-door visits.

The city later reached a temporary agreement with the organization to allow students to continue going door-to-door.

On May 8, Brumlow and Handlon said the city is still working to negotiate the terms of the potential settlement, and said the deal could be finalized as early as June.

“We have an idea of how things might go, but we don’t know for sure at this point,” Handlon said. “We are in negotiations right now to work out issues with the ordinance.”