In what is being hailed as a victory for free speech, a judge in Philadelphia today dismissed all criminal charges against four Christians who were arrested for evangelizing at an outdoor homosexual event.
Judge Pamela Dembe of the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas dismissed the charges, saying that she found no basis whatsoever for any of them.
“We are one of the very few countries that protects unpopular speech,” Dembe said after viewing a videotape of the arrests. “And that means that Nazis can March in Skokie, Ill. … That means that the Ku Klux Klan can march where they wish to. We cannot stifle speech because we don’t want to hear it, or we don’t want to hear it now.”
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, each could have received a maximum of 47 years in prison. One female teenage protester faces charges in the juvenile justice system, but those charges likely will be dropped tomorrow.
“The judge saw this case for what it is,” Joe Infranco, senior counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, said in a statement. “This was the right response to an outrageous abuse of power to silence speech that some people didn’t like.
“What took place here was a government crackdown on disfavored speech. The OutFest participants staged a national coming-out day on a public street using public funds, and then they tried to say it’s a private event. That didn’t make any sense, and neither did the actions of the police. …”
Bruce Fahling is senior trial attorney for the American Family Association Center for Law & Policy and has worked on behalf of the Christians in the federal courts.
“We are pleased and relieved for our clients that justice has finally been done in the criminal system, and though it is apparently slow and rusty, the system still works,” Fahling said in a statement.
“This ends only the first chapter in the ‘Philadelphia 11′ saga. The next chapter is federal action against the officers and city of Philadelphia. We are still calling for the Department of Justice to investigate the corruption and profound abuse of power that we have seen in Philadelphia.”
Dembe is the judge who last month removed the bail requirement that the defendants stay at least 100 feet away from any homosexual gathering.