Bob Unruh joined WND in 2006 after nearly three decades with the Associated Press, as well as several Upper Midwest newspapers, where he covered everything from legislative battles and sports to tornadoes and homicidal survivalists. He is also a photographer whose scenic work has been used commercially.More ↓Less ↑
A Christian who prayed in a public park with six other people is serving a nine-day jail sentence for disorderly conduct even though his case is under appeal and charges against the others were dismissed or overturned.
Wisner Park in Elmira, N.Y.
Julian Raven of Elmira, N.Y., said he was “surprised by police at his office,” handcuffed and taken into custody this week, according to the Alliance Defense Fund, which is defending Raven.
“According to his wife, police escorted him out of a court hearing … in handcuffs in front of his crying children to begin serving his nine-day jail sentence,” the organization said in a report.
“We are surprised at how eager the city was to arrest Mr. Raven again in light of his appeal. Now he will serve time in jail; however, we will continue to aggressively pursue his appeal in court,” said Joel Oster, ADF senior legal counsel.
The Christians “made their way to an area in front of the stage and began to pray silently while lying prostrate in the grass. A police sergeant had earlier informed Julian Raven that he could not enter the public park, walk through the park, or talk to anyone in the park about his religion. After the group began to pray silently on their faces, all were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct,” ADF reported.
Court records show Sgt. Sharon Moyer told Raven he could not disrupt the event.
So, ADF reported, he and the others “entered the event to pray silently for event participants and to share the Gospel with them.”
“There was plenty of room in the park. No one was being turned away. They walked in silence. Neither the defendant nor anyone from the group bumped into anyone as they entered and they did not force others out of the way,” ADF said.
They walked to a grassy area near the front, kneeled or laid down, and prayed.
“They chose this posture in order to be as non-threatening as possible,” ADF said.
Moyer then arrested the seven and reported it was because of concern that the homosexual festival participants might react with hostility to the Christians.
Three defendants were removed from the case almost immediately, leaving four to be convicted by Elmira city Judge Thomas Ramich of “disorderly conduct.”
But the convictions for three – Gloria Raven, Maurice Kienenberger and Walter Quick – later were overturned in the Chemung County Court.
ADF is arguing, under the First and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution, “peaceful speakers may not be arrested simply because others in the forum may react to their message in a hostile manner.”
“The lower courts in this case ruled that the arrests were proper because the defendant must have known that other event participants would respond with hostility. This, however, is precisely what the … cases prohibit,” ADF asserts.
Assistant Police Chief Mike Robertson told WND at the time 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.
ADF said it is ironic that Elmira recently settled a lawsuit in a separate federal civil action involving Raven and two others. In that 2008 case, Elmira police threatened the men with arrest as they tried to share their faith during another “gay pride” event.
The men were wearing shirts with the message “Liberated by the blood of Jesus,” handing out literature and holding up signs on a public sidewalk at the event.
Court documents show the city paid each defendant in that case $5,000 plus the attorneys’ fees and costs for the action.
Oster told WND that the city appeared to go out of its way to create controversy in the case. Raven has been represented by legal counsel throughout, yet the city mailed to his home address – not his legal counsel – a notification of an arrest warrant.
The city then arrested Raven before the notification reached him, Oster confirmed.
“They wouldn’t have to do that,” he said. “It was intentionally to create embarrassment.”