A Pretend Preacher, a Real Arrest and a Debate About Free Speech
By ETHAN WILENSKY-LANFORD
New York Times | 01-Jul-2007
A satirist dressed as a preacher and protesting what he called
the Disneyfication of New York City was arrested Friday for
harassing police in Union Square before the start of a monthly
bicycle rally that the Bloomberg administration has been trying
to rein in.
Bill Talen, who performs under the name Reverend Billy, said
that he was arrested after trying to defend the cyclists'
rights by reading the First Amendment to the police -- through
a bullhorn. The authorities said that he was arrested after
repeatedly being told to stop.
Mr. Talen was charged with two counts of second-degree
harassment. He was released without bail pending a court date
"We were full of the holy spirit of the First Amendment," said
Mr. Talen, who is in his mid-50s and was dressed like a big-tent
evangelist, with a white suit and a dyed-blond pompadour. He
sometimes spreads his message with the help of the Church of
Stop-Shopping Gospel Choir.
In an interview yesterday, Mr. Talen defended his performance
art. "New York City won't exist if we won't let creativity
happen in public space," he said.
Mr. Talen said he was at Union Square to support the cyclists
taking part in Critical Mass, a monthly ride aimed at promoting
nonpolluting forms of transportation. Critical Mass riders
gather the last Friday of every month at Union Square.
The police, who have said the riders can be unruly, have been
there en masse in recent years, ticketing the cyclists for
blocking traffic or for similar violations. Organizers said that
on Friday, there were more police officers than the 125 or so
Norman Siegel, a civil rights lawyer, said he witnessed
Mr. Talen's arrest and would represent him. "Reverend Billy has
a First Amendment right to recite the First Amendment," he said.