Blind Faith | Cases | First Liberty

Talking About Your Faith to People in a Public Park Should Never be a Crime

Gail Blair is a woman whose only crime is a love for talking with people and walking in the park. Since 1983, she has lived in the small town of Westerly, Rhode Island, where she spent most of her career as a registered nurse, including as a Nurse Clinician at Johns Hopkins. As a young woman, Gail was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder that gradually caused her to lose her vision.

But as her world went dark, she saw a new light of purpose on her life. “As my vision faded, I came to see more clearly that we are born again through Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” Gail said. No longer able to work as a nurse, she resolved to continue helping others by gently sharing her faith with the local community. “In the beginning of my career, I provided medical care as a nurse. But now I care for others in what I feel is an even more important sense, by bringing the good news of the Gospel to others so they can have eternal life.” During her strolls in Wilcox Park, she would carry pocket copies of the Gospel of John, offering them to the people she met.

She never expected to be told that her conversations about faith were banned in Wilcox Park, and worse, that she would, in front of the police, be banned from accessing the public park and library for having them.

Banning a Blind Woman for Talking About Jesus in a Public Park

Park officials never seemed comfortable with Gail striking up conversations about her faith and handing park goers religious material, even though they didn’t mind others having conversations in the park, hosting plays while passing out handbills, or handing out materials for other events. Park officials specifically targeted Gail for her religious conversations and materials. They even claimed that Gail—over the age of 60 and blind—accosted people in the park in an effort to force them to talk to her.
On June 24, 2019, park officials contacted the police, asking them to bar her from stepping foot in either the park or the library for two years. Sighted persons are free to cross into Wilcox Park and have conversations with anyone they meet, but park officials called the police and threatened to arrest a blind woman for having conversations with others about Jesus in their park.

A public records request to the Westerly Police Department revealed that Gail is the only person to have ever been issued a trespass notice for talking about Jesus and distributing written materials in Wilcox Park.

First Liberty Takes Action, Reaches Settlement

In June 2020, with assistance from First Liberty Institute and William Wray Jr., an attorney at Adler Pollock & Sheehan P.C., filed a charge of discrimination with the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights against the Memorial and Library Association. The charge alleges that the Association’s actions violated Rhode Island’s laws for places of public accommodation and were discriminatory on the basis of religion and disability.

After several months, in October 2020 First Liberty announced that it reached an agreement with the Library Association that will allow Gail to enter the Association’s public park and converse with others about her faith.

“We commend the Rhode Island’s Memorial and Library Association for resolving the case and recognizing our client’s religious liberty,” said Jeremy Dys, Special Counsel for Litigation and Communications at First Liberty.  “Our client is thrilled that she can once again enter the park across the street from her home and talk with other visitors.”

“I am thankful to First Liberty Institute and all my attorneys for fighting on my behalf and look forward to once again spending time in the park and sharing my faith in Jesus with those who are interested in having the conversation,” said Gail Blair.

 

News Release
For Immediate Release: 10.29.20
Contact: Lacey McNiel, media@firstliberty.org
Direct: 972-941-4453

Elderly Blind Woman Reaches Agreement with Authorities Allowing Her to Enter Park, Share Faith with Others
First Liberty Institute client had been prohibited from entering library, park across the street from her home

Providence, RI—Attorneys with First Liberty Institute today announced that in cooperation with William Wray Jr., an attorney at Adler Pollock & Sheehan P.C., they have reached an agreement with the Westerly, Rhode Island Memorial and Library Association that will allow their client, Gail Blair, to enter the Association’s public park and converse with others about her faith.  Blair had been banned from the park and threatened with arrest for having conversations with others about Jesus during which she would offer them a small copy of the Gospel of John.

“We commend the Rhode Island’s Memorial and Library Association for resolving the case and recognizing our client’s religious liberty,” said Jeremy Dys, Special Counsel for Litigation and Communications at First Liberty.  “Our client is thrilled that she can once again enter the park across the street from her home and talk with other visitors.”

Gail is an elderly, blind resident of Westerly, RI. In June 2020, Gail, with assistance from First Liberty Institute and William Wray Jr., an attorney at Adler Pollock & Sheehan P.C., filed a charge of discrimination with the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights against the Memorial and Library Association. The charge alleged that by prohibiting Gail from entering the park and share her faith with others, the Association violated Rhode Island’s laws for places of public accommodation and were discriminatory on the basis of religion and disability.  The settlement allows Gail to enter the park and converse with others.

“I am thankful to First Liberty Institute and all my attorneys for fighting on my behalf and look forward to once again spending time in the park and sharing my faith in Jesus with those who are interested in having the conversation,” said Gail Blair.

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About First Liberty Institute

First Liberty Institute is a non-profit public interest law firm and the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans.

To arrange an interview, contact Lacey McNiel at media@firstliberty.org or by calling 972-941-4453.


News Release – 6.17.20

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