Strip club owner sues minister

MONTPELIER, La. (AP) — The owner of a St. Helena Parish strip club has filed a lawsuit against a pastor for comments the minister allegedly made while lobbying to have the club shut down.

The Advocate reports ( Tyrone Butler, owner of The Mansion near Montpelier, filed the defamation lawsuit in state District Court against the Rev. Richard Sandberg, pastor of New Zion Baptist Church in Kentwood.

Butler also names the Moral Alliance of St. Helena as a defendant; Sandberg runs the organization.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

Butler's claim is based on comments Sandberg made during a June 25 meeting of the parish Police Jury.

Jurors were discussing a resolution exempting current sexually oriented businesses such as Butler's from an ordinance adopted June 11 that regulates strip clubs and similar businesses.

The resolution passed on a 4-2 vote.

During the meeting, Sandberg asked jurors not to "bow down to the intimidation and fear tactics of a schoolyard bully," referring to Butler.

In a statement, Sandberg said Butler's lawsuit is an intimidation tactic against those trying to close St. Helena's strip clubs.

"While we have experienced both setbacks and success, we have stayed the course and exercised our First Amendment rights to speak out for what we believe in," Sandberg said. "That right is now being threatened."

Butler's attorney did not return calls seeking comment.

Residents have complained about The Mansion and another club in Pine Grove. Sandberg has been one of the leaders in the drive to have them closed down.

The Police Jury's June 11 ordinance amends laws regulating alcohol licenses to prohibit nudity and "certain physical contact" between patrons and employees. A second change creates a new rule to license and regulate "sexually oriented businesses and employees."

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