Lawyers for a team of Christians convicted of disorderly conduct for praying at a “gay” fest in a public park in Elmira, N.Y., are promising an appeal of the verdict that left them with $100 fines.
Joel Oster, of the Alliance Defense Fund, said an appeal will be filed in Chemung County court for Julian and Gloria Raven, Maurice Kienenberger and Walter Quick, all of Elmira, who were ordered to pay $95 apiece in court costs in addition to the $100 fines.
Oster told the Star-Gazette newspaper that the police in the United States simply are not supposed to arrest people if someone else may be upset by their message.
The Supreme Court has ruled in cases involving “sit-in” protests, he said, that authorities cannot arrest blacks just because they were making white people angry.
“The police have a duty to protect the speaker,” he told the court, according to the Star-Gazette.
“Choosing to exercise your First Amendment rights in a public place is not a crime,” Oster said just before going into the trial.
At issue is the arrest of seven Christians at a “gay pride” event in Wisner Park in Elmira in 2007. Julian and Gloria Raven and several others entered the park to pray silently for the participants of the event celebrating homosexual behavior. Charges against three later were dropped, and only the four went to trial.
Officials with the ADF noted that the materials advertising the event said everyone was invited and it was open to the public. “The group did not draw a disorderly response from event participants,” the ADF said.
According to the newspaper report, Police Sgt. Sharon Moyer told the court she warned Julian Raven that his rights at the event were limited.
He earlier said she had told him not to cross the street, go into the park or talk to anyone.
“He said he was there to preach the word of God,” Moyer told the court, the newspaper reported. “I explained he was welcome to be there (at the festival), but he would not be allowed to confront the participants.”
She accused the street preacher of being antagonistic.
Raven, however, said it was Moyer who was “aggressive from the get-go” and said her orders amounted to a deprivation of his rights.
“It seems oxymoronic to say that by walking silently in a public park, with heads bowed, these people somehow disturbed the peace,” Oster said of the case earlier. “From the sit-ins of the 1960s to today, courts have repeatedly ruled that the police cannot arrest those who peacefully express their message in public places.”
The ADF said the issues are no less than the freedoms of speech and religion.
“If this violation of these Christians’ rights is allowed to stand, the First Amendment rights of all people of faith are in jeopardy,” the ADF said.
Assistant Police Chief Mike Robertson told WND that the members were accused of a “combination” of allegations, including the “intent” to cause a public inconvenience, a “disturbance” of a meeting of persons and obstructing vehicular or pedestrian traffic.
He also said at the time that the accusations would include taking part in “any act that serves no legitimate purpose.”
Elmira City Judge Thomas Ramich’s conclusion found that in order to prevent participants in the “gay” festival from being upset, the city was correct to arrest the Christians.
The newspaper reported he called Raven reckless for even going to the park.
The prosecutor, Robert Siglin, said the city was concerned for public safety, and that’s why the Christians were arrested. During closing arguments he said speech freedoms don’t matter when “public order” is an issue.
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