Dana Crow-Smith first got into trouble with Arizona police when she stepped onto public property while handing out free bottles of water during a July arts event. But the Phoenix resident now says she was expressing her Christian faith and has enlisted the help of at least one national organization that is threatening to sue the city.
Police issued Crow-Smith a warning, saying she needed a vendor's permit after handing out the water during a First Friday Art Walk on July 6. A Phoenix city memo states that Crow-Smith violated an ordinance requiring permits for "vending, selling, serving, displaying, offering for sale or giving away goods, wares, or merchandise or food from either a mobile vending unit or a mobile food vending unit."
"I don't even think it's about religious beliefs, I think anybody should be able to give away water, on the sidewalk to anybody. It's hot, and it's a nice thing to do," Crow-Smith said in an August interview with a local ABC affiliate.
The Arizona Republic reports that an online protest campaign has gained steam since the incident was first reported.
A conservative group called We Like Small Government first posted about Crow-Smith on its Facebook page, which generated several thousand likes and was subsequently shared across the conservative blogosphere.
And now, Virginia-based Christian-rights organization The Rutherford Institute has formally taken up her cause, threatening to sue the city if Phoenix officials do not apologize to Crow-Smith.
In a letter to Phoenix city officials, Rutherford attorney Doug Drury says the ordinance does not apply to Crow-Smith, since she was giving away the water bottles for free. "Ms. Crow-Smith's conduct was a manifestation of her sincerely held religious beliefs," the letter adds.
However, Phoenix officials say they are not likely to change their position, noting they only gave Crow-Smith a warning rather than a fine.