While on my way to the Park Street T stop many evenings I hear loud expressive speech from an advocate of Christianity and a return to Biblical teachings. It reminds me of the story we tell to visitors about George Whitefield, the Great Awakening, and the long tradition of preaching on the Boston Common. Although I would never compare this individual with one of the stature of George Whitefield, Billy Graham, or Martin Luther King, Jr., it does remind me that the Common has hosted many occasions of religious activities and preaching. From the City of Boston.gov website: "Boston Common continues to be a stage for free speech and public assembly. Here, during the 20th century, Charles Lindbergh promoted commercial aviation. Anti-Vietnam War and civil right rallies were held, including one led by Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1979, Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass." But you do need a permit to preach and hold a gathering.
For an alternate look at "free speech" and religion on the Boston Common in the 19th century, I'll refer you to Peggy Bendroth's book, Fundamentalists in the City and some resources of the library including "Let God be True: A Sermon Preached on Boston Common, in the eight month on the eleventh day of the month, A.D. 1889" and "Why He Was Jailed for Preaching on Boston Common: Gospel Has Paramount Claims, Music Hall Meetings, a Fearless Protest Against Romanism, Sectarianism, Masonry, and Every Ism, Christ's Servants Must Obey Him" both by William F. Davis. Another pamphlet available at the library is "Demand For the Repeal of the City Ordinance Forbidding the Preaching of the Gospel on Boston Common" by W. Kellaway. In an article, "The Man Who Preached on the Common" from The New York Times, December 25, 1887, Mr. Davis is described as "a crank, however well-meaning may be his intention to spread the Gospel."
As I again walk past the preachers at the Park Street T stop, I will keep in mind that one person's evangelist may be another person's "crank". And to hold a revival on the Common you do need permission.
photograph of the Park Street gate on Boston Common in the late 19th century reproduced from Old Park street and its vicinity by Robert Means Lawrence (1922) via Wikimedia Commons