The Philadelphia Eleven after they were cleared of any criminal charges for giving their Christian message at a public homosexual festival in Philadelphia in 2004
A new federal court decision in the case of the Philadelphia Eleven could send Christians’ free speech rights another step towards extinction, according to group members who have been told police officers had a right to silence their biblical messages at a public homosexual festival.
The decision came in a civil rights lawsuit brought by members of that team, including Repent America director Michael Marcavage, who sued the city and a homosexual-festival sponsor after group members were cleared of criminal charges for their actions at the 2004 “Gay Pride” public street festival in the downtown area.
U.S. District Judge Lawrence Stengel dismissed their civil rights claim, concluding that a “permit” granted by the city to the homosexuals allowed police to silence the Christian activists’ message on public streets.
“The law requires the police to control the crowd and to deal with those acting disorderly, not tell us that we’re not permitted to be there,” Marcavage said.
The judge’s precedent would allow police to arrest anyone at any public gathering simply because they have what the judge called “a contrary message,” raising speculation that Republicans could be arrested at a Democrat “festival” and competitors could be arrested at a commercially-sponsored “festival.”
Marcavage called it a restriction on time, place and manner. But in the application to a commercial festival sponsorship, it could be assumed that having a discussion about Chevies at a Ford-sponsored event could be prohibited.
“You can’t talk about Chevies; you couldn’t even have Chevies parked on the streets,” he said.
“It is without question that Judge Stengel’s decision has set a precedent to eliminate the First Amendment rights of others by citing that a ‘permitting scheme’ can be used by police and event organizers to ‘exclude persons expressing contrary messages’ in public areas and at public events,” Marcavage said.
“It is for this reason that his ruling is especially troubling and must be overturned,” he continued. “Christians must be free to speak the truths of God’s Word, warn the wicked, and to preach the Gospel in the public square without interference from government, and therefore, we will continue to battle for these God-given liberties by appealing this decision.”
He said the appeal will be pursued in the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, because otherwise Christians will be “left in a position here that will affect the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, because this decision will be binding.”
Rev. Ted Pike, of the National Prayer Network, campaigns against such “hate crimes” and “hate speech” plans, and is warning there actually is a federal plan that could be used to make criminals of any Christian who speaks Biblical messages.
“The David Ray Hate Crimes Prevention Act is now before the House Judiciary Committee. If it’s signed into federal law, the Philly Eleven incident won’t be a freak injustice of American history. Instead, it will be the unheeded first raindrop of a downpour of anti-Christian arrests and lawsuits submerging Christianity in the years ahead,” Pike has written.
He said the dismissal of the civil rights complaint means that “the Philly Eleven were wrong in exercising free speech in what had become a no-free speech zone.”
He said the federal plan “would eventually allow government ‘thought police’ to push aside states’ rights in law enforcement. Such laws would allow federal indictment of Christian ‘haters’ in every state of the Union…”
“It would become a federal crime … to show bias against protected groups [including] homosexuals. However, deviant groups such as witches, Satanists, pedophiles, abortionists, and even ‘sinners’ could quickly catch a ride on the bandwagon of federal protection from the ‘hate’ of biblically oriented criticism,” he said.
The U.S. requirement that there is physical evidence of a crime before an arrest is made could be abandoned, and the only criteria of guilt in a hate crimes case could be “whether the feelings of a member of a federally protected group have been hurt,” he said.
Pike’s www.hatelawsexposed.org website is a primary resource center for information on “anti-hate” laws.
The decision by Stengel granted summary judgment to the city of Philadelphia and “Philly Pride Presents, Inc.”
Siding with the defendants, Stengel said police were permitted to discriminate against the Christians because of “safety concerns” coupled with Philly Pride’s permit from the city to hold the $10,000 taxpayer-funded celebration of homosexuality on public streets.
The judge couldn’t escape the facts that “the activity in question took place in a public forum,” and “there is no doubt that the venue for OutFest, a designated section of streets and sidewalks of Philadelphia, was a public place,” but despite that he found that through the permit OutFest “was empowered to enforce the permit by excluding persons expressing contrary messages.”
“Obviously, we are very disappointed,” said Ted Hoppe, a lawyer for the Philadelphia Eleven. “We believe that the law clearly supports the rights of the plaintiffs in this case, as well as all individuals, to be able to engage in free speech activities in public streets and sidewalks.
“We do not believe,” he continued, “that the fact that there was an event also taking place, even with a permit, diminishes that right.”
“I cannot even begin to comprehend what Judge Stengel’s thought process was in making this decision,” said Marcavage. “This ruling was entirely unexpected considering that all the evidence has been overwhelmingly in our favor, complete with video documentation, not to mention the fact that all 11 of us were vindicated of any wrongdoing in criminal court.”
The case dates back to 2004, as WND reported, when on Oct. 10, six men and five women with Repent America, now established as the Philadelphia Eleven, were arrested while ministering on the public streets and sidewalks of Philadelphia during the “OutFest.”
Before they were arrested, they had been confronted by a mob of homosexuals calling themselves the “Pink Angels,” who blew loud whistles and carried large pink signs to block the Christians’ message and access to the event. Other screamed obscenities at the Christians.
Philadelphia officers, under the supervision of Chief Inspector James Tiano, a department “liaison to the gay and lesbian community,” refused to take any action against the homosexuals over the harassment, instead taking the Christians to jail.
They were there 21 hours before Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham’s office charged them with “Ethnic Intimidation” among other counts under the state’s “hate crimes law.”
Penalties could have ranged to 47 years in prison and fines of $90,000, but Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas Judge Pamela Dembe dismissed the criminal charges as being without merit. The civil rights lawsuit by the Christians then followed.
What many people found disturbing was the fact that months earlier, Stengel had refused to dismiss the OutFest organizer from the lawsuit, concluding that “Plaintiffs have pleaded sufficient facts to infer a conspiracy between the Philly Pride Defendants and the other defendants … to deprive Plaintiffs of their constitutional rights.”
At that time Hoppe noted that the city’s actions “demonstrated a clear hostility toward Repent America and the content of their message.”
Repent America is a group that “desires to be in the full Will of God and to adhere entirely to the teachings of the Bible.”
“As Christians, we know that there is a literal hell and a lake of fire where the unsaved will burn for all eternity; therefore, we act upon this truth without reservation and GO OUT into the streets and communities of America declaring the Word of God and proclaiming the Good News. We must go out to where the sinners are. We must go to those who would never come into our churches – to the atheists, to the religious, to the self-righteous, to the God-hating and win their souls to Christ,” its website says.
“For so long, as followers of Christ, we have allowed Satan to invade our communities through abortuaries, the entertainment and pornography industries, religious institutions, sexually perverse establishments, homosexual parades and other sin celebrations without a word from the Christians therein. God has called us to ‘Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression…” (Isaiah 58.1)”
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