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Think of all the dangerous characters lurking around our schoolchildren these days:
- There are drug dealers;
- There are gang members;
- And there are the sex predators – more and more of them posing as teachers.
With all these threats to the safety and well-being of their students, guess who school authorities in the state of Florida have targeted with more than one prosecution?
The answer: Two member of the Gideons International, those dangerous subversives who give away Bibles to anyone interested – including students walking to and from school.
It all started when Annette Martinson, the principal of the Key Largo School, spotted Ernest Simpson and Anthony Mirto of the Gideons handing out free copies of the Bible to anyone interested. In nothing flat, she was on the phone to the Monroe County sheriff’s department.
Now, you might expect the police, trained as they are in law enforcement, to first ask the question: “Which law is being broken here?” Instead, deputy John Perez decided to subdue, detain and arrest these “suspicious” characters and ask questions later.
He threw in a little verbal assault and humiliation for good measure, roughly handcuffing the men behind their backs, shoving them into a sealed, un-air conditioned squad car for nearly an hour in 90-plus heat and injuring their wrists in the process.
Then he made sure their car was towed away and impounded.
“Now you can pray to Jesus all the way to jail,” the thoughtful and sensitive public servant told Simpson and Mirto once on their way to the station.
Thankfully – and not surprisingly – a judge later dismissed trespassing counts against both men, noting the clear First Amendment violation of arresting people for distributing religious literature on a public sidewalk. Kudos to the Alliance Defense Fund for its usual good work in defending religious freedom.
That might have been the end of it – and the whole thing could have been chalked up to some bad decisions by inexperienced local officials. But this is Florida – the state that gave Terri Schiavo the death penalty for her inability to eat without assistance. This is the state that might still be counting and recounting hanging chads if the U.S. Supreme Court didn’t intervene.
So what happened next?
Since the trespassing charges were summarily thrown out, officials searched the law books for some alternate charges to take these Gideons off the streets once and for all.
What they found is a law that prohibits anyone from being within 500 feet of a school property without having “legitimate business” or permission.
“The distribution of Bibles on a public sidewalk is not a criminal offense,” explained David Cortman. “The attempts by Florida officials to continue pressing for the prosecution of Mr. Mirto and Mr. Simpson is not only blatantly unconstitutional, it borders on religious persecution.”
And that’s the way the judge saw it, too. The new charges, like the old, were dismissed.
But there is a lot more to this case than the results. The very fact that charges were brought twice against these men for an action once considered commendable by American society gives me chills.
How many people in our culture have become persuaded that religious activity on or near public property is somehow illegal? How many people in our culture are being deterred from religious activity or political activity because of this kind of dangerous ignorance? How much longer can America remain free when police officers, prosecutors and school principals think they actually have the power – maybe even the duty – to arrest people for spreading the Gospel?
Think about that perverted standard of morality the next time you send your kid off to public school to be “educated.”
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