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 engage in conversations 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.
This week’s ruling by the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Sacramento struck down the mall rules as unconstitutionally vague and restrictive of free speech. The court also awarded costs on appeal to Snatchko and indicated that he would be able to collect damages and attorney’s fees. The case now heads back to the trial court for implementation of the appellate court’s decision.
PJI President Brad Dacus commented, “We are very pleased with this landmark ruling by the California Court of Appeal that vindicates the right to engage in casual conversations about faith without fear of being arrested. This is a great victory for free speech and common sense.”
PJI affiliate attorney Timothy Smith, of the Sacramento firm McKinley & Smith, served pro bono as Snatchko’s lead counsel in the trial court and presented oral argument to the Court of Appeal.