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.
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