City Does Not Learn Its Lesson: “Unnecessary Noise” Charge Dismissed Again

Kennewick, WA—A Benton County District Judge has dismissed, for the second time, a criminal charge against a public evangelist who regularly preaches outside of a Planned Parenthood clinic. The judge held that the City of Kennewick’s noise ordinance unconstitutionally restrains speech that “annoys” the comfort, repose, health, or safety of the public.

Eric Schonbachler, who Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) previously represented, travels to various communities to preach to the public. He regularly preaches in Kennewick, Washington, on the public street outside of a Planned Parenthood clinic. He posts a sign with a picture of a baby, offers religious tracts, and delivers religious speeches without any amplification. ​

On September 9, 2019, after Schonbachler was cited for the exact same charge almost a year earlier in November 2018, a Kennewick police officer confronted Schonbachler outside the Planned Parenthood clinic to inform him of the noise ordinance regarding elevated voices. Schonbachler respectfully told the officer that he retains his First Amendment rights to deliver his speeches and presented the officer with the order PJI obtained affirming the constitutionality of his speech. Deciding to ignore the court’s order, the officer proceeded to cite Schonbachler claiming he had “unreasonably annoyed and endangered the comfort of others.” PJI again went to court on the evangelist’s behalf and again prevailed.

Jorge Ramos, PJI’s attorney in Seattle who represented Schonbachler, said, “Once again the court correctly found that the noise ordinance’s terms do not describe the human voice, nor Schonbachler’s preaching. Hopefully this will be the last time the City of Kennewick brings this charge against Eric.”

Brad Dacus, President of PJI, commented, “We will continue to represent public evangelists no matter how many times a city comes after them. We do this all without charge to ensure that free speech remains truly free.”