A blind woman in Rhode Island was banned for two years from a public park and a library in Westerly for sharing her faith in Jesus Christ, according to a discrimination complaint.
Officials at the Memorial and Library Association, in charge of Westerly Library and Wilcox Park, demanded Gail Blair, 63 at the time, who is blind from a genetic condition known as retinitis pigmentosa, stop having conversations with others in the park about Jesus, Fox News reports.
During her talks, Blair would offer passers-by a copy of the Gospel of John. Members of the association called the local police on June 24, 2019, complaining that she “accost(ed)” patrons by “stopping” and “giving them religious pamphlets” which they were discarding in the park.
A short time later, after volunteering to assist her church’s Vacation Bible School event in the park, the Westerly Police Department informed Blair that she had trespassed, warning her that any future violations would result in her being placed under arrest.
On Tuesday, First Liberty Institute and William Wray Jr., an attorney at Adler Pollock & Sheehan P.C., filed a charge of discrimination on behalf of Blair with the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights against Westerly, Rhode Island’s Memorial and Library Association for banning Blair from a public park.
Blair says in the discrimination charge she was never combative and never argued with anyone who wanted to end the conversation in Wilcox Park in Westerly, R.I. She also says she didn’t follow people.
Blair handed a copy of the Gospel of John to those who talked with her.
A representative of the association however, told Fox News it “does not engage in nor tolerate any forms of discrimination,” adding that it has not received a copy of the complaint and “cannot specifically comment on the allegations made by Gail Blair.”
“The Association vehemently denies any claims of discrimination or wrongdoing and it looks forward to receiving a copy of the complaint in order to rebut and disprove any claims made by Ms. Blair.”
“Banning a blind woman from entering a public park simply because she offers people she meets religious material is outrageous and discriminatory,” said Jeremy Dys, special counsel for Litigation and Communications at First Liberty Institute. “No government entity should ban anyone—let alone a gentle, blind woman—for simply carrying on conversations about her faith and giving them a copy of the Gospel of John in a public park.”
He added that “Talking about your faith to people in a public park should never be a crime. Gail Blair simply wants the same rights as everyone else, to be free to talk to people about issues she cares about in a public park.”
Acting on complaints from the association, police threatened her last year with arrest if she returns.
“I do not walk about or sit down with a cardboard sign carrying an ominous message concerning the end of days,” she writes in the discrimination charge. “I do not shout of the coming apocalypse or cry out that so-and-so is condemned to damnation and the world is doomed. I do not prophesy or speak in tongues or shout. I do not follow people and harangue them. I do not argue with those who wish to end any conversation I might initiate. I do not carry around a can seeking donations for myself or for my church.”
Instead, she said she simply offers them a copy of the Gospel of John, “no arguing.” The Bibles are from the Pocket Testament League.
“From time to time I attempt to start a conversation with passersby, and if they are willing, I offer them a copy of the Gospel of John and explain my beliefs,” she says “I have had many positive interactions with men and women that I’ve met in this way.”
Blair was diagnosed at age 12 with retinitis pigmentosa, a rare genetic disorder that causes gradual loss of sight. Blair had to stop driving in 1988 and stop working as a nurse in 1989.
“As my vision faded, I came to see more clearly that we are born again through Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” she wrote in the discrimination charge. “The one thing that sustained me through the devastation of my progressive vision loss was the fact that I had, since 1984, an established, deep, personal relationship with my Lord, Jesus Christ.
“Despite my blindness, my deep and abiding faith gave purpose in life,” she wrote. “I have always done my best to care for others. 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.”