Wednesday, April 3, 2013

How to Scare a Government School Oficial in One Easy Step

  The main thrust of my ministry work is publick preaching and evangelism, and has been  for  almost 18 years.  In our  relatively small community, I miss out on the massive crowds that I   had access to when living in a big city, but I  get the replacement benefit of preaching to people that I  will see again and again and again. That sort of  things hold you accountable, you understand.
  About a half-mile or so from our church is a  government indoctrination center (middle school)school, and  I had decided a while back that this would be a great place  for evangelism. The layout of the school is such that  cars full of parents   stack up out the  front driveway of the school  and onto the road while  waiting for  the  prisoners (sorry--students) to be released.   In addition to this,  when school lets out there is  a great deal of foot traffic leaving the property, most of which  goes along a sidewalk that runs  out in front of the school.  I had been thinking about this spot for some time, and so one afternoon, my unflappable  partner and I decided to give it a test run. We would simply  wear our shirts that say  "JESUS  SAVES" and hold some fairly innocuous  signs with  Bible verses on them.  It was free speech without speaking.
  To keep from blocking  traffic during  the 45 minutes or so that it takes this school to dismiss  , the cars actually  stack up on the sidewalk, so the sidewalk was  virtually  useless to us.  We simply stood back 3 or 4 feet back from the cars on the grass, and simply stood there with our signs. We talked to  no one.  Within less than 2 minutes we were  approached by a school official with a walkie-talkie that  informed us that the grass we were standing on was school property, and we would have to move forward onto the sidewalk, which was public property.   Keep in mind, we weren't preaching, we weren't handing out tracts, we were simply standing there. We took a step or two forward onto the little bit of sidewalk that wasn't occupied by a car and were now standing mere inches  from the vehicles, but the school official had insisted that to put ourselves in   danger was a more acceptable alternative than us standing on school property that we had, after all, helped  pay for.
  The following week we  made it to the  sidewalk before the  cars started stacking up and  placed ourselves behind the line of cars.  Within minutes, another walkie-talkie  came along and  said that we were not allowed to use the sidewalk to stand on, that we were indeed, blocking  vehicular traffic. I pointed out the ridiculousness of a pedestrian being asked to yield to a car on the sidewalk, but was ignored.   We crossed the  street to where there was no sidewalk and finished out our  time on that side.
  The third week  we positioned ourselves behind a stop sign. Due to its placement, it was  a piece of sidewalk no car could possibly  use.  Surely I thought, we can't be blocking traffic  now.  The walkie-talkie made his way back out and was quite belligerent. I tried to reason with the man, pointing out that there was no way a car could  go where we were standing, and besides, it was a SIDEWALK!.  He  claimed that the  sidewalk was school property, even though one of his other walkie-talkie buddies had told us the exact opposite the week before. He   raised his voice and said "If you don't leave I'm going to call the cops!"
  I pointed to a nearby  cop  acting as a crossing guard and said "There's one right there, go get him." The walkie-talkie left, apparently to call some entirely different set of cops and as soon as the crossing guard stand-in  had a minute, he approached us. He had been watching this  unfold over the last couple of weeks and had  "done some checking" and  , according to him, the sidewalk we were on WAS school property, but  only between approximately 2:30 and 3:15  in the afternoon.  After that, it  magically  became  public property again.
 Now I enjoy a  good joke as  much as  the next guy, but this was getting  irritating.  I assured  the traffic  cop that, after having preached  in  lots of  different  public places over the last  few years, I had NEVER heard of  something flip-flopping ownership like that. He assured me it was so. I demanded to see this in writing. This request, alas, he could not fulfill.
  He went on to say that the principal had  'complete jurisdiction' over the area, and that the area of jurisdiction extended 1,000 feet  beyond the school building.  Now the school building is set pretty far back from the road with a  really long driveway, and I had no way of measuring it, but I was pretty sure the sidewalk was further out that that.  I mentioned this, and the cop  informed me that the principal also had the magical power to extend this  zone as far out as he needed to  in order to  'keep the children safe'.  I have to admit, I try to stay informed, but I was  amazed to learn that the principal of a  middle school had such god-like powers.  I was equally amazed at the inference that  2 guys in  T-shirts with signs were such a threat to  the children's safety.
  He threw his third red herring at us. He was 'pretty sure' we might need a permit, as we were 'conducting a business' on public sidewalks. In my head I went 'oh, now they're public again, huh?'. I smiled politely and said "Would the principal happen to be in his office?" When he admitted that   this probably was the case, I turned and headed towards the  school building, my partner in tow, with the surprised police officer  trying to keep up.
  The secretary was speechless when we arrived, looking back over  our shoulders at our police escort.  The principal was summoned and the 4 of us   had a little pow-wow in a side office.  My case and request were both very simple.  I wanted to preach the gospel  out on the public  sidewalk, as is my right, and his walkie-talkie brigade was giving us a different set of rules every week. I wanted to simply see something in writing as to what the rules actually were. 
  The principal was very diplomatic, a skill his  job may very well require.  He  told us that he was  very aware of who we were, what we were doing, and that he actually was in favor of our ministry, but his hands were tied, the law being what it is and all. He admitted that there was probably nothing he could show me in writing that would satisfy me, but he hoped to appeal to us on another level. He admitted that the sidewalk was public property, and didn't change hands, but  would we mind so terribly standing on the other side of the road where there is no sidewalk? We would still be visible, still be audible should we  decide to  preach, and we would be out of the way of cars.
  He said that he has  45 minutes or so every afternoon to get 1000 kids off of the property safely, and on any given afternoon any number of things could go wrong. He said "You on that sidewalk is just one more thing that can go wrong." He  took the position that, when we stand on the sidewalk,  children have to  walk around us, and that puts them closer  to traffic, so, as a favor to him, could we  just move everything across the street?
  As he was talking, I was thinking. This wasn't  the libertarian Alamo. What I really wanted to do was not make some sort of test case for free speech laws, I just wanted to do my ministry.  So I agreed.  As it turns out, the  other side of the road is a better fit for what we are trying to do.  Now every Friday afternoon, me and my still unflappable partner   walk down the length of the sidewalk carrying our signs, we turn  to the right and cross over in full view of  the walkie-talkies and  the   stacked cars.  We preach  for maybe  20 minutes or so , under the watchful eyes of both the traffic cop and the  principals minions who are on hair-trigger alert for these two dangerous ruffians, one of which is over 60 and blind.  Could I have made a huge case? Probably. But the point wasn't to do that. The point was to actually exercise my freedoms. Scaring them  just  a tad  every Friday afternoon is just icing  on the cake.  How do you scare them?  By pointing out the insanity they've agreed to  abide by in exchange for a paycheck. It doesnt always  work out, but every once in a while, it does.

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