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Judge: 'Philly 5' not denied free speech
Posted By -NO AUTHOR- On 02/04/2005 @ 1:00 am In Front Page | Comments Disabled
In another blow to the “Philly 5″ – the Philadelphia Christians facing possible 47 year jail terms for evangelizing at a homosexual event – a federal judge has refused a request to stop the local prosecution of the group.
Judge Petrese B. Tucker, for the second time, has refused to sanction the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office for what the Christians’ attorneys say are “retaliatory criminal proceedings.”
According to the American Family Association Center for Law & Policy, which is representing the Christians on the federal level, Tucker denied the request for relief last week, saying the Philly 5 had “insufficient evidence … regarding why any of the defendants would want to stifle their First Amendment rights.”
The group’s attorneys had presented as evidence their clients’ First Amendment rights were violated the fact that Assistant District Attorney Charles Ehrlich told an earlier court proceeding the Christians’ religious speech was “hateful, disgusting, despicable words,” and “fighting words.”
As WorldNetDaily reported, on Oct. 10, a group of 11 Christians was “preaching God’s Word” to a crowd of people attending the Philadelphia “OutFest” event and displaying banners with biblical messages.
After a confrontation with a group called the Pink Angels, described by protesters as “a militant mob of homosexuals,” the Christians were arrested and spent a night in jail.
Eight charges were filed: criminal conspiracy, possession of instruments of crime, reckless endangerment of another person, ethnic intimidation, riot, failure to disperse, disorderly conduct and obstructing highways.
None of the Pink Angels was cited or arrested.
After a preliminary hearing in December, Judge William Austin Meehan ordered four of the Christians to stand trial on three felony and five misdemeanor charges. If convicted, they could each get a maximum of 47 years in prison. One female teenage protester faces charges in the juvenile justice system.
Brian Fahling is senior trial attorney for the law center.
Said Fahling in a statement: “The law requires us to show bad faith or retaliation by the D.A.’s office; we established that beyond argument with a videotape of the entire incident that shows our clients peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights, then being arrested and charged with crimes that carry a potential for 47 years imprisonment, and a district attorney’s office that retaliated against them because it hates their speech.
“It is difficult to conceive of more compelling evidence of bad faith and retaliation than what we have presented to the court in this case.”
Fahling colleague Michael DePrimo added: “There has never been a stronger case for federal court intervention based upon allegations of bad faith and retaliation than [the Philly 5] presented to Judge Tucker. … Prior to taking the bench, Judge Tucker was an assistant district attorney for Philadelphia for eight years; she is undoubtedly aware that peaceful expression of First Amendment rights is not criminal.”
The next hearing date scheduled for the Christians is Feb. 17, when the court will consider their motion to dismiss the case. Seventeen-year-old Lauren Murch’s trial date is Feb. 18.
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