Dana Crow-Smith said a City of Phoenix worker came up to her during the First Friday festival in downtown Phoenix last month and told her she was violating city code by handing out free water because she did not have a permit.
Crow-Smith and a group of others were there exercising their Christian beliefs by engaging people to talk about religion if they wanted.
The group brought several cases of bottled water to give away in the 112-degree heat, but said a Neighborhood Preservation Inspector told the group they had to stop handing out the water or would be cited.
“It was really hot and yeah we wanted to show God's love and a small act of kindness is a great way to do that without shoving it down someone's throat,” said Crow-Smith.
The Rutherford Institute , a non-profit civil liberties organization, stepped in to represent Crow-Smith and calls this is “a violation of Crow-Smith's First Amendment right to freely exercise her religion, her Fourteenth Amendment due process rights, as well as Arizona's Free Exercise of Religion Act.”
"It is a sad day when local government officials prohibit Americans from such charitable acts as giving water to the thirsty in their city," said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute.
In a letter to the city , Whitehead demanded the City issue a formal, written apology to Crow-Smith, assure her no City officials will interfere in future with her distribution of water, and require City workers go through training on the proper enforcement of the City’s code.
If not, a lawsuit could follow.
A city spokesperson was working on a statement but did not have one ready by the end of the business day Monday.
But Crow-Smith said she hopes to avoid a lawsuit and just wants to be able to hand out water.
“But I don't think it's even about religious beliefs. I think anybody should be able to giveaway water on the sidewalk to anybody. It's hot and it's a nice thing to do,” said Crow-Smith.