Brother Nathanael eviction coming soon?
Summit County Correspondent
Vail CO, Colorado
SILVERTHORNE, Colorado ” Summit County’s most famous street evangelist ” Brother Nathanael ” may soon be banned from plying his trade on some local median strips, if the Silverthorne Police Department has its way.
Concern for the safety of both pedestrians and motorists has prompted Silverthorne to begin developing an ordinance to prohibit anyone from standing on highway medians, town manager Kevin Batchelder said this week.
“We want to honor people’s constitutional right to free speech, but we want people out of busy intersections,” he said.
Although any such ordinance, if enacted, would apply to all, Brother Nathanael said he has no doubt the impetus behind the current discussion is the Silverthorne Police Department’s objection to his presence.
“It’s not a matter of safety. It’s a matter of discrimination against Brother Nathanael,” the former monk asserted.
Since his arrival in Summit County more than two years ago, the street minister has frequently pushed the limits of what local law enforcement will accept.
Despite that standing on median strips is legal in all areas of the county, he is regularly approached by police officers and told to move.
“How many times do I have to tell them that it’s perfectly legal?” he asked.
While he also appears in venues as diverse as New York City’s Times Square and Aspen’s X-Games, the cassocked Brother Nathanael lives in Frisco and can be seen most frequently on Highway 9 near the Frisco Marina and in Silverthorne near the Interstate 70 interchange, dancing and greeting commuters with a crucifix, an American flag and a smile.
Over time, his preferred spot in Silverthorne has moved from the intersection of Highway 6 and Rainbow Drive to a location a few hundred yards south on the median strip almost directly across from the westbound off-ramp from the interstate.
This new location worries Silverthorne Police Chief Mark Hanschmidt.
“Number one, I’m concerned with his safety,” Hanschmidt said. “I’m also concerned with distracting drivers, because I think he takes some people by surprise.”
Silverthorne police get “several calls per month” about Brother Nathanael, he added.
When any complaint is called in, whether for a barking dog, late-night noise or someone on the highway median, departmental procedures require an officer to check it out.
So when a passing motorist called last week and expressed concern about the unusually dressed man they saw dancing on the median strip, an officer was dispatched to be sure nothing was wrong.
“I honestly think these calls are well-intentioned,” Hanschmidt said. “They’re not just causing a ruckus.”
Brother Nathanael disagreed.
“Police don’t like people who are going against the grain,” he said. “It’s all about getting Brother Nathanael off the median strip.”
Safety is not the issue, he believes.
Although Hanschmidt has shown him photographs of a nasty truck rollover that occurred a couple of years ago on the median in question, the monk believes he is in no danger at that location.
“There’s never been an accident there ever since I came out and made the sign of the cross,” he said.
Any ordinance banning pedestrians from the median would require approval by the town council after two formal readings and associated public hearings, Batchelder said.
The town attorney is drafting an ordinance that could be presented to the council as early as this month.
The existing code prohibits pedestrians from soliciting “employment, business, contributions or sales of any kind” from the median, or entering the roadway to collect money from vehicles stopped at intersections.
It’s not unusual for the Silverthorne police to have to tell non-local panhandlers to “move along,” Hanschmidt said.
“People come up from Denver to panhandle. They think Summit County is an untapped market,” he added.
Because he solicits no goods or money, Brother Nathanael has not been subject to the code.
If the proposed ordinance is passed, however, he could be ticketed.
Hanschmidt referred to a similar ordinance enacted in Boulder a few years ago as a possible template for Silverthorne.
The Boulder law prohibits anyone from occupying a median strip except while crossing the street.
Because it was enacted as part of the city’s anti-aggressive panhandling code, local attorney Seth Murphy sees a significant legal distinction between the Boulder ordinance and any law developed to keep his client off the median.
“I think with Brother Nathanael, it’s a very different thing,” he said.
Both Batchelder and Hanschmidt emphasized repeatedly that safety is their primary concern
“We don’t have any problem with his presence,” Batchelder said. “We just want to balance his rights with public safety.”
In the past, the town’s police officers have brought him coffee and even offered to plow a space on the sidewalk for him, the manager added.
Although Silverthorne officials indicated the county’s other municipalities might consider similar ordinances in the future, Frisco Police Chief Tom Wickman said his town has no current plans to follow Silverthorne’s lead.
To his knowledge, no one yet has complained about Brother Nathanael’s presence on the Frisco median.
Determined to challenge any law prohibiting his freedom of movement, Brother Nathanael has contacted a Denver law firm that specializes in First Amendment cases.
“I’m willing to compromise with the towns,” he said. “I’ll stay on the wide part of the median strip.”
Silverthorne’s threat of a legal action, however, is something he says he can’t ignore.
“I feel very hurt by the way they treat me,” he said.
“I feel sorry for these people.
They have now placed themselves as enemies of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
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