Wisner Park in Elmira, N.Y.
A notice of appeal has been filed on behalf of four Christians who were fined for praying in a public park in Elmira, N.Y., according to officials with the Alliance Defense Fund, a legal alliance that defends the right to hear and speak the truth.
“Christians shouldn’t be punished for expressing their religious beliefs,” said Joel Oster, a senior legal counsel for the ADF. “They have the same First Amendment rights as anyone else in America.”
The case stems from a visit by seven Christians to a homosexual festival in a public park in Elmira last year. They were convicted of “disorderly conduct” even though the police officer who arrested them testified their actions were peaceful.
Charges against three of the defendants were dropped, but Elmira City Judge Thomas Ramich concluded Julian and Gloria Raven, Maurice Kienenberger and Walter Quick were guilty of disorderly conduct and fined them $100 apiece, plus court costs.
A local newspaper reported the judge determined Raven was reckless for going to the park.
Now ADF has filed filed with the Chemung County Court a notice of appeal for the Feb. 29 convictions.
“Arresting and prosecuting Christians simply because they choose to exercise their First Amendment rights in a public place in unconstitutional,” said Oster.
“As no time did the peaceful actions of this group break the law. If the sit-ins of the 1960s were not a crime, then certainly this wasn’t either. The law on this is well-established,” he said.
The Christians were arrested June 23 after they entered Elmira’s Wisner Park with their heads bowed to pray for the participants of the homosexual festival going on. Materials advertising the event stated it was open to the public and all were invited to attend.
The defendants had been told by a police sergeant they were not allowed to “cross the street, enter the park, or share their religion with anyone in the park.”
The Elmira Star-Gazette reported police Sgt. Sharon Moyer told the court she warned Julian Raven that his rights at the event were limited..
“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.”
The officer 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.
The ADF said the First Amendment rights of the Christians should have been the focal point of police concern.
“The police have a duty to protect the speaker,” Oster told the Star-Gazette after the trial.
“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.
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.”
The prosecutor, Robert Siglin, said the city was concerned for public safety, and that’s why the Christians were arrested while exercising their First Amendment rights.
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