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Atlanta ‘gay’ pride poster
The city of Atlanta has created a Constitution-free zone on public property for this weekend’s 2007 Atlanta Pride festival, according to pastors and lawyers who have been trying to secure an assurance that Christians’ free-speech rights will be protected.
“The Constitution does not apply in Piedmont Park this weekend,” attorney Joel Thornton, of the International Human Rights Group told WND.
“The city of Atlanta, whose attorneys I have been negotiating with for the past six months, has just sent me a letter saying that they ‘will not be able to offer you or your client[s] any assistance in this matter,'” he said.
The theme of the Piedmont Park event for Atlanta’s “gay” community may be: “Our Rights, Your Rights, Human Rights,” but the pastors have no doubts their Christian message will be silenced by the authority of the city’s police force.
An estimated 300,000 people from all areas of the country attend the festival, which is the culmination of Atlanta’s “Gay” Pride month, an event welcoming “diversity,” “tolerance” and “rights.”
But, said Thornton, “when officers of the Atlanta Police Department threaten to arrest Christians for sharing their faith at the event there will be nothing stopping them from keeping the Gospel message from being heard in this community.”
Thornton’s conclusion is supported by the experiences of a number of pastors who at the 2006 event were restricted for delivering “incongruent” messages at the homosexual event. That scene was captured on videotape:
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Dick Christensen said he and his small group of urban missionaries hadn’t even unfurled their banners on the grassy knoll outside the festival gate a year ago before they were threatened with arrest.
Atlanta Pride Committee Executive Director Donna Narducci approached Christensen with a personal security guard and an Atlanta police officer, asking him to move from his place outside of the public park.
“It’s not like we had banners and bullhorns,” Christensen told WND. “I was just wearing an ordinary shirt, no buttons, and I’m confronted before I even begin to exercise my First Amendment right to free speech.”
“She was carrying a permit, and she said that I had to leave the public sidewalk surrounding the park,” he recalled, “because, and I quote her, I was not ‘carrying a message that is congruent with Atlanta Pride.’ That is the reason I had to leave the public sidewalk or face arrest.”
Passengers of Atlanta ‘gay’ pride float
“I do not want to be arrested for preaching the Gospel,” Christensen responded, adding, “This is a public access/public street.”
“What happens if I don’t move,” Christensen asked. “The police officer stood nodding when Narducci said ‘Yes, you will be arrested…'” he remembers.
After the street ministry moved across the street, Christensen said they were “attacked” by festival attendees. “One of the more disorderly participants knocked down one of the preachers, attacked one of our banners and ripped it off the pole,” he recalled.
Christensen later found the exact permit Narducci referenced, which she had used to banish pastors from sidewalks surrounding the park. Upon reading the permit, Christensen said, “There was nothing there that excluded anyone carrying other messages or any person in general from entering the park. She was basically ad-libbing.”
Bill Adams, one of Christensen’s fellow street pastors, also was threatened with arrest, but he feels he was targeted before the festival even began, primarily due to his efforts to rid the parade of female nudity.
“This will be my sixth or seventh ‘Pride’ weekend,” he said, “and every Saturday they have an official ‘Dyke March.’ Routinely, many of the women in the parade will be bare-chested, sometimes with ‘pasties’ on. There is visible, flagrant, unquestionable nudity.”
A friend of Adams’ made a DVD of photos to document the nudity and obscene acts in violation of city and state indecency ordinances. After Adams and several of his compatriots appeared separately at city hall without success, they appeared en masse, asking the city to enforce its indecency ordinance at this year’s rally. Adams said they were hoping to protect local families in the public park and ensure that lawless nudity would not again be protected as free expression.
But according to Thornton, the city did not even admit it had an ordinance about indecency until Adams showed them the section where it could be found.
After meeting with Robin Shahar, an open lesbian on the mayor’s legal counsel staff, Imara Canady, of the cultural affairs office, and an Atlanta police sergeant, Adams realized the problem would come down to a skewed definition of decency.
“The immediate response…was that Robin Shahar would not admit that topless women violated the indecency ordinance,” he said. “They told me they weren’t concerned, and that they certainly wouldn’t put a stop to it. Their ultimate response was to do nothing.”
According to Georgia State Code, Section 16-6-8, “A person commits the offense of public indecency when he or she performs any of the following acts in a public place.” The third act listed is “a lewd appearance in a state of partial or complete nudity.”
Atlanta City Ordinance Section 4, Section 106-129 regards as indecent exposure: “An exposure of one’s genitals or one’s breast, if female.”
But according to GLBT Liaison Officer Darlene Harris, indecency is “tricky” to define in Atlanta, as it technically only requires that part of the female breast be covered in public.
Harris doesn’t feel nudity was “a problem” last year, although she admits “there were a few isolated incidents.”
While she would not comment about last year’s First Amendment violations, Harris assured WND that police protocol had changed.
“This year,” she said, “things are very different. It is very clear that the protesters have their First Amendment rights. They will not be stopped by the police. They will not be stopped by festival coordinators. That will not happen this year.”
In fact, she said, “The protesters are more than welcome to come to the park. They have their First Amendment right to free speech, and they will not have to worry about being locked up and going to jail.”
The main concern of the Atlanta Police Department, according to Harris, is the possibility of riots. “As long as [protesters] aren’t inciting a riot, they are allowed to be there. They are welcomed to come and speak.”
When pressed for a definition of “speech inciting a riot,” Harris said protesters were free to express their opinion without regard to its content, as long as it is cannot be construed as “egging on” the festival attendees.
“You can say, ‘I believe that the Bible says homosexuality is a sin and that means you’re going to hell,'” she said, “and that is free speech.”
But based on last year’s unofficial standard of “congruency,” Thornton believes Harris’s terminology will be enforced differently than it is explained.
“They’re trying to categorize ‘noncongruent’ speech as ‘fighting words’ intended to incite riots,” he said. “You can’t say something is ‘inciting a riot’ just because it’s making people mad, which is what they tried to do last year. You can’t penalize people for what you think they’re going to say. You can’t penalize people for the way you think others might react.”
He continued, “The police shouldn’t be trying to stop the speech, they should be trying to stop those trying to riot. You don’t say, ‘This bank robbery wouldn’t have happened if the bank didn’t have all of this money;’ you try to catch the robbers.”
“There is only one viewpoint allowed,” concluded Thornton, “and rights only matter if they’re expressed in a fashion appealing to the homosexual community.”
Pastor Billy Ball, one of the known five men arrested last year, knows firsthand that rights haven’t always mattered at all, no matter their fashion of expression.
Ball was arrested last year for “criminal trespass” after walking, accompanied by several other pastors, within 300 yards of the Dyke Parade. The arresting officer, an avowed lesbian, responded to his inquiries about compelling governmental interest with an angry brush-off: “I’m not taking questions today, I’m giving orders.”
Within minutes, five of the men were handcuffed and locked in a stainless steel paddy wagon across the street, where they would wait in 100-plus degree heat until they were paraded through an Atlanta precinct. Ball required medical attention after his stay in the steaming, unventilated paddy wagon, and recalls that the men were required to remain handcuffed even when they needed to use the restroom.
After a night in the Fulton County jail, the men were released under the condition that they notify the city of Atlanta of their whereabouts every month. To Ball’s chagrin, the men have not yet been arraigned, their $2 million lawsuit is hung up in red tape, and a year later, the case has not even gone to trial.
Dick Christensen calls the situation, “virtual probation,” noting that several of the men have been denied jobs because of their “new prison record.”
The presence of Ball, his Sons of Thundr, and other pastors at the event has been an increasing source of angst for event organizers, Donna Narducci, executive director of the Atlanta Pride Committee, told “Southern Voice.”
“It became of greater concern to the Atlanta Pride Committee over the past few years because the numbers of protesters has increased each year,” she said. “We dealt with this issue [in 2006] in a more in-depth way [than previous years], and the city law department helped us with that.”
Atlanta Council President Lisa Borders’ shows support for the ‘gay’ pride event
Earlier this month, Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin was forced to back down from a proposal to create “free speech zones” that would actually limit where pastors and other “protesters” can demonstrate during large city festivals. The mayor’s proposal stemmed from incidents at Pride in recent years, but the measure was widely rebuked as Orwellian doublespeak.
The proposed ordinance would have allowed large event organizers to request the creation of “free speech zones,” where protesters espousing viewpoints contrary to the overall theme of the event would be restricted to demonstrating. The ordinance would have also empowered event organizers to determine “who is authorized to exercise her/his First Amendment rights as part of the outdoor festival on that day, and shall issue such people a badge to be worn indicating such authorization.”
While the ordinance was unanimously struck down in the city council, Bill Adams and other pastors fear it serves as clear evidence of the Atlanta city officials’ slant towards the homosexual agenda.
Mike Johnson of the Alliance Defense Fund confirmed this is a common occurrence. “There have been city officials who have enlisted as volunteers to promote the homosexual agenda,” he said. “It doesn’t work out well for them in the courts. In fact, it almost always turns against them because the Constitution is so clear.”
Catherine H. Woodling, media relations officer in the mayor’s office says that fear is unfounded, telling WND, “Free speech is treated the same by the city, regardless of the content of the speech. The Atlanta police department will enforce the law at this and all other festivals in the city. The city permit process and the Atlanta Police Department are guided by the law and not arbitrary enforcement of the law targeted to any one group.”
Despite all of the assurances, Adams remains unconvinced. “We want to give everyone the benefit of the doubt,” he said, “but this weekend, we’re not quite sure what will happen. We’re happy to comply with the law, but we’re not here to be bullied and have our First Amendment free speech rights violated.”
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Jennifer Carden is an intern for WND.