Letter to the Editor for Aug. 3, 2017

Street preacher created ‘toxic atmosphere’ at Camas Days

For close to 18 years now, my family and I have enjoyed Camas Days every summer. We shop the vendor booths, eat at the food carts, watch the parades and even cheer on the bathtub races.

But until now, we have never experienced the toxic atmosphere created by the public lecturing of a loud, unbearable, religious street preacher. Disturbingly, no one in authority made any move (that I saw) to intervene, despite the very public spectacle of this street preacher and his cohorts determined to foist their religious beliefs on the citizens of our ideal town of Camas, and despite requests by more than just myself to intercede.

To explain, here’s what happened: As we strolled past Mill City Brew Works near Fourth Avenue and Cedar Street, we were confronted with a young man wearing a hands-free microphone to ensure he could read aloud from his bible, preaching with loud fervor to the unsuspecting crowds as they strolled past — including adults, teens and children.

I stopped and questioned the preacher man, whom it turns out is from Beaverton, Oregon. The name of the church he gave me was the “First Organized Presbyterianism Church,” but I have been unable to locate a church of that name. Unfortunately, I did not get the man’s name, but I did videotape him and his cohorts for several minutes.

After that encounter, I located a city of Camas police officer (Officer Fellows), introduced myself, and expressed my concern about how this man and his team were harassing passersby and continually interrupting the peace. I asked Officer Fellows if there was anything that he could do. He said he would look into it and talk to the preacher.

He also said that he had already received a few complaints from other people. Naturally, I assured Officer Fellows that I appreciated his hard work and respected his efforts. I was as polite as possible to Officer Fellows.

The preacher man’s loud evangelizing continued. Other Camas Days participants complained as well, apparently to no avail.

I filmed the preacher on my cell phone to document the incident. After that point, I went back to Officer Fellows, who at that time told me there was nothing he could do because of free speech. As we parted ways, his final words were not “goodbye,” but were, “drive safely.” Could that have been a veiled threat of some sort?

The community celebration of a small town, while Camasonians of all (or no) faiths come to enjoy an annual tradition, is absolutely not the place to conduct aggressive, in-your-face street sermonizing.

I imagine there are federal free speech laws around this nation, and in our states, but I also imagine that the city of Camas has its own by-laws to protect the harassment of citizens from this kind of street-preaching aggression. Otherwise, what stops any man from opening his — for example — Church of Satan bible, and reading aloud for hours on a street corner?

Does not the city of Camas, its police department (and maybe even the Camas Days organization itself) have protections in place to prevent citizens from being harassed during public community gatherings like Camas Days?

Does the right of the individual (an intolerable and vainglorious street preacher) surpass the rights of thousands of law-abiding Camasonians?

Jaime Gardner, Camas