by Carter Budwell III
“The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.” – Psalm 103:6
Our firm is pleased to announce that the week of January 30, 2017, started with a great victory for Christian Rights Ministries. Our good friend, Mr. Don Karns, who has dedicated his life to preaching the Gospel, was found not guilty of violating a Newport News noise ordinance.
On December 3, 2016, Mr. Karns and some of his colleagues were preaching the Gospel at a major local event in Newport News known as Hollydazzle, where thousands come each year to celebrate Christmas. Due to the size of the crowd and the noise generated by the event, Mr. Karns and his friends used a small amplification device.
At approximately 5:20 that evening, they were approached by a number of Newport News police officers, who instructed them to cease using the amplifier or face arrest. It is important to note at this point that the ordinance cited by the officers, Newport News Local Ordinance § 28-36, does not completely ban amplified noises; rather, it bans noises that can be heard from a distance of more than fifty (50) feet from the source of amplification. However, Mr. Karns and his friends were not instructed to lower the volume of the device; rather, they were told they had to stop using the device. Believing the officer’s instructions to be in violation of his rights under the Constitution, Mr. Karns continued to preach the Good News, and was subsequently cited for violating the ordinance.
Mr. Karns case was heard before the Newport News General District Court on the morning of January 30, 2017. The case was handled by the newest addition to the Alliance Legal Group, Attorney Carter Budwell. The citing officer admitted that no distance measurements had been taken that night, and that although measurements were taken two weeks later using landmarks noted at the scene, those landmarks were not based on where Mr. Karns was first heard, but rather where another speaker from the group was heard. Furthermore, the officer admitted that the group had been told that they could preach, but not with amplification (it should be noted at this point that the officer was extremely courteous and cooperative in investigating this case and preparing for trial, and we are grateful to him for that). Ultimately, the judge found that the officer had failed to meet the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
We are grateful to the Lord for this victory, and yet saddened that it was necessary in the first place. Mr. Karns was not preaching in a quiet neighborhood in the wee hours of the morning, but rather at a massive public event attended by thousands in which there was a live band playing greatly amplified music in the background. The noise that Mr. Karns was making was easily compatible with such ambient noise, yet he was cited nonetheless, and was never given the opportunity to lower the volume.
As we enjoy the aftermath of this victory, we must continue to pray that such incidents do not occur again in the future. Using amplified speech, subject to certain, narrow restrictions, has been protected by the Supreme Court for decades, as it is so often necessary to effectively reach people in modern society. Let us pray that the Lord will continue to grant wisdom to judges deciding cases such as this, and that throughout our Nation this right will continue to protect those like Mr. Karns, who so willingly face off against fear of man and boldly proclaim the Lord’s truth.