Mall’s “Don’t Talk to Strangers” Rule to be Argued Monday in Court of Appeals

Sacramento, CA – The California Court of Appeals will hear arguments Monday in a case testing the validity of a shopping mall’s attempt to prevent adult patrons from talking to each other about hot-button topics such as religion and politics.

The case arose after a youth pastor, Matthew Snatchko, was arrested at the Roseville Galleria Mall in 2007 for striking up a casual conversation with two other shoppers about faith. Although Snatchko had first obtained the shoppers’ permission to broach the subject, a nearby store employee disapproved and called mall security guards, who arrested Snatchko. Criminal charges were later dropped, but attorneys with Pacific Justice Institute filed suit to challenge the mall’s tight restrictions on speech.

Under the mall’s rules, shoppers are not allowed to express themselves about potentially controversial topics like religion or politics, unless they already know the person they are talking to. Another mall rule bans the wearing of any clothing with religious or political messages.

After a Placer County Superior Court judge upheld the mall’s rules in 2008, Pacific Justice Institute appealed to the Third Appellate District in Sacramento. PJI affiliate attorney, Timothy Smith, will present oral arguments to the court on Monday, June 28.

Attorney Timothy Smith commented, “It’s chilling that mall owners think they can arrest patrons for striking up friendly conversations with strangers. We believe the mall’s actions violated the California’s free speech guarantees.”

PJI President Brad Dacus commented, “Singling out religious speech for punishment violates our most basic principles of free expression as Americans. If anyone can be arrested for mentioning God in a shopping mall, we have lost one of our most fundamental freedoms.”