A group of Blue Ridge Parkway hikers was taken aback recently when they encountered a Jehovah Witness stand in front of a popular trailhead on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Bev McDowell is a hike leader with the Carolina Mountain Club. She was leading a group in the Graveyard Fields area when she came across the proselytizers.
“That’s when we came across a Jehovah Witness stand. They were handing out pamphlets and free water to people,” McDowell told the Asheville Citizen Times.
“I don’t think the forest is the place for this. The parkway land was set aside years ago to be commercial free, no advertising, no billboards. It’s an oxymoron to set up a little stand. I don’t want to see people out there selling their religion or the Girl Scouts selling cookies.”
According to Blue Ridge Parkway spokeswoman Leesa Brandon, the Jehovah Witness devotees were within their rights when distributing the religious literature because the parkway is considered a public space.
“We encourage the opportunity to have a conversation with those who want to practice the First Amendment rights (freedom of speech, the press, religion and assembly). We have some areas set up for people to do that,” Brandon told the Citizen Times.
“Our preference is to have a heads-up and coordination with these groups to make sure it’s done safely and let our staff know this is happening, mainly for safety.”
What do you think? Should preaching and religious proselytizing be allowed on the Blue Ridge Parkway.