January 2013 Church & State | AU Bulletin


A Pennsylvania county court has ordered a street preacher to stop proselytizing in the vicinity of school bus stops.

Dauphin County Judge Jeannine Turgeon said Stephen Garisto must be at least 20 feet away from school bus stops whenever children are waiting to get on or off a bus. 

Garisto argued that he had a right to proselytize on free speech grounds, but Turgeon didn’t buy it.

“Certainly the School District has a strong interest in preventing an adult stranger from approaching captive audience school children and engaging them in conversation, handing out pamphlets, stopping them as they get off a school bus or pursuing them as they walk away therefrom,” Turgeon wrote.

Witnesses testified that Garisto called at least one student a “heathen” and that he yelled at parents who supervised their children at the bus stop. At least one child said Garisto frightened him, according to court documents.

Garisto said in court documents that he has ministered to children since 1986 and that his goal is to “save” and “disciple” them. He handed out gospel tracts to “unsaved” children at the bus stop, and, in one instance, passed out tea and hot chocolate.

Turgeon said school officials’ concern is reasonable.

“The potential injury involved here is to children whose safety and sense of well-being has been placed at risk by defendant’s conduct,” she said. (Central Dauphin School District v. Garisto)