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Talking to strangers OK'd at Galleria

By: Josh Fernandez The Press Tribune
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A court ruled that it’s OK to talk to strangers about God while shopping at the Roseville Galleria. The 3rd District Court of Appeal Wednesday struck down the Roseville’s Galleria’s policy that barred people from approaching strangers to talk about anything other than the mall itself within common areas. The mall’s owner, Westfield LLC, enforced the policy, however, the state appeals court said the rules at the Galleria violate the California Constitution’s free speech guarantee. The case arose in 2007, after mall officials issued a citizen’s arrest of 27-year-old Matthew Snatchko, a youth pastor who tried to talk with two shoppers about his faith. The shoppers willfully engaged in Snatchko’s conversation, but a mall employee watching the religious discourse called security, who then ordered Statchko to leave. After Snatchko refused to exit, he was handcuffed and arrested by mall security. Snatchko was released and never charged with a crime, but with the help of the Pacific Justice Institute – an organization specializing in the defense of religious freedom that assisted Snatchko with his case– he decided to challenge the legality of restricting religious conversation at a mall. The appeals court struck down the policy, saying it effectively barred shoppers from giving directions or talking about the weather. In a statement released Friday, Westfield spokeswoman Katy Dickey addressed the organization’s frustration with the ruling. “(The policies ensure) safe and secure shopping, dining and entertainment enfironment while recognizing the requirements of California law,” the statement said. Dickey said Westfield is considering options for appeal. “We are disappointed that the Court of appeals determined that the rules in question did not satisfy the required legal standard for reasonable time, place and manner restrictions,” she wrote in the statement. “We are reviewing the court’s decision and will consider our options for next steps including appeal to the California Supreme Court.” Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, said the outcome of the appeal was favorable. “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,” Dacus said in a statement. “This is a great victory for free speech and common sense.” Josh Fernandez can be reached at joshf@goldcountrymedia.com.