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Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Letter of the Law

ABC and Yahoo news both recently reported on Dana Crow-Smith who first got into trouble with Arizona police when she stepped onto public property while handing out free bottles of water during a July arts event emblazoned with suffocating desert temperatures. But the Phoenix resident now says she was expressing her Christian faith and has enlisted the help of at least one national organization that is threatening to sue the city because of their apparent aggression toward charitable water bottle givers that wish to help prevent dehydration.

Police issued Crow-Smith a warning, saying she needed a vendor's permit after handing out the water during a First Friday Art Walk on July 6. A Phoenix city memo states that Crow-Smith violated an ordinance requiring permits for "vending, selling, serving, displaying, offering for sale or giving away goods, wares, or merchandise or food from either a mobile vending unit or a mobile food vending unit."

"I don't even think it's about religious beliefs, I think anybody should be able to give away water, on the sidewalk to anybody. It's hot, and it's a nice thing to do," Crow-Smith said in an August interview with a local ABC affiliate.

Virginia-based Christian-rights organization The Rutherford Institute has formally taken up her cause, threatening to sue the city if Phoenix officials do not apologize to Crow-Smith.

In a letter to Phoenix city officials, Rutherford attorney Doug Drury says the ordinance does not apply to Crow-Smith, since she was giving away the water bottles for free. "Ms. Crow-Smith's conduct was a manifestation of her sincerely held religious beliefs," the letter adds.

However, Phoenix officials say they are not likely to change their position, noting they only gave Crow-Smith a warning rather than a fine.
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