Nearly a year ago, five Christians were arrested by police in St. Petersburg, Fla., for carrying signs wider than their torsos outside the city’s designated free speech zone at its annual “gay” fest. Now they’ve been given a trial date of June 26. And two days later they plan to be back at the festival, protesting homosexuality.
WND reported at the time when Pastor Billy Ball, Assistant Pastor Doug Pitts, Frankie Primavera and Josh Pettigrew, all of Faith Baptist Church in Primrose, Ga., were arrested after leaving an area set aside by city officials for protest activities. Bill Holt, of Lighthouse Baptist Church in Jefferson, Ga., was also taken into custody.
Primavera today told WND the defendants have been informed that they finally will get to argue their case in court on June 26. He said then two days later, the five, with additional personnel reinforcements, plan to be back at the St. Petersburg event.
“Basically we’ll do the same thing, go back to the gay pride event, hold up signs and preach,” he told WND. He said the same five men are planning to be on hand, and “probably there will be some more people too.”
Scene from the 2007 St. Petersburg ‘gay’ pride festival (Courtesy, Tampa Bay Times)
The story made headlines a year ago because of the city’s novel restriction that the men were told by police their signs were not allowed outside a designated protest area because they were wider than their torsos.
Primavera confirmed, in fact, that in 2007 when the five men were arrested, another church member was not, even though he also was carrying a sign, because physically his torso was wider than the other men.
Lighthouse Pastor Kevin Whitman, who returned to the “protest area” designated by the city instead of being arrested, reported that at last year’s event police officers told them “bigger people could carry bigger signs than smaller people – it all depended on how big your torso was.”
“Our signs were just standard foam-poster board,” he said. “Nothing big – maybe six inches wider than our torsos. If we had just rotated them, the police would have been OK with them. But then, you couldn’t read the message.”
Primavera said the five have had several pretrial hearings, and had been given an earlier trial date that was changed. His lawyers say the date on June 26 now is confirmed.
“We’re kind of hoping that the outcome of our court case might change the ordinance they had,” he told WND. “We’re kind of in limbo until after the court case.”
He said, however, the men believe they did nothing wrong.
“We have all come together,” he said. “If we lose we’re not paying the fine. Either we have a Constitution or we don’t.”
As WND reported, St. Petersburg officials, following disturbances at previous homosexual festivals, implemented rules governing outdoor events that set aside “free speech zones,” where protesters are allowed.
The resulting ordinance came under fire by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Alliance Defense Fund for being too broad. It allows the city to create prior restraints of speech on an event-by-event basis, with virtually no predictable limits. It also criminalizes certain free speech behavior around public events and authorizes the police to enforce breaches of permits – the penalty for such breaches being arrest.
Under the rules enforced in 2007, demonstrators were permitted to use amplified sound and wave banners of any size, including in the restricted event area, only during the pride parade and for a few minutes before and after. During other times, they could be used only in the set-aside area. The policy for large signs and signs mounted on sticks limited their bearers to the restricted zone.
Ball is no stranger to the conflict between homosexual activism and the First Amendment. He and several others were arrested at Atlanta’s homosexual festival in 2006 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 waited 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 said the men were required to remain handcuffed even when they needed to use the restroom.
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