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On Friday, June 8, while thousands of people gathered in public squares around the country to observe “Stand Up For Religious Freedom” day, at least one law enforcement agency responded by clamping down on the demonstrators’ freedom of speech.
Bryan Kemper, Priests for Life youth outreach director, told WND police officers with the Sinclair Community College Public Safety Department in Dayton, Ohio, informed the organizers of the local Stand Up For Religious Freedom event that no signs of any kind could be held by individual members of the public attending the Sinclair campus rally, which was just getting under way.
All signs were ordered by police to be laid down on the ground.
“As the rally was starting, the campus police informed us that all the signs and banners people were holding must be put on the ground after a complaint from a homosexual advocacy group leader,” Kemper told WND. “The police walked around the crowd telling people to put their signs down, that they could not hold them in their hands.”
According to organizers of the rally, police offered the Sinclair Community College Campus Access Policy as the reason no signs could be held in the hands of citizens, yet the policy can be found online and says nothing about signs.
Kemper tells WND that the campus rally was organized by the Sinclair Community College chapter of Traditional Values and was issued a permit for the event by the college.
Bonnie Borel, president of the Traditional Values group told WND, “The campus police apparently have total discretion to deny the first amendment rights of people on campus.”
“The police told us that we had failed to mention in our permit application that our supporters might show up holding signs,” she said.
The Sinclair Community College venue for the Stand Up for Religious Freedom event was open to the public and attended by over 300 people from the Dayton area.
When asked if she knew that there was a rule against citizens holding signs, Borel told WND, “Oh no, there is no rule. … That’s the funny thing. The Campus Access policy the police refer to doesn’t address signs, but does say that the policy is not all inclusive, allowing the police to use their discretion when they see fit.”
In this video, taken by an attendee of the Stand Up for Religious Freedom event, the cameraman asks the police if demand to put down signs applies to the banner for the event itself and is told by a uniformed officer that the main banner, identifying the event, is fine.
Within seconds of that exchange, another uniformed police officer, later in the video identified as Nick Toscani, can be seen reaching out and grabbing the video camera, and can be heard saying, “Turn it off.”
Editor’s Note: The video below does contain an obscenity.
The cameraman protests being grabbed by the police officer, and the original officer tells the cameraman that he should go exercise his Constitutional rights with the crowd, and not exercise his rights with a police officer.
After this exchange, the cameraman is told that the banner signifying where the event is being held is suddenly no longer allowed either.
Of the difficulty with the police at the Sinclair Community College, Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life said, “We praise the Lord for the rallies for religious freedom that occurred today, but something smells fishy in Dayton.”
“Forcing people to put their signs down is certainly not a default activity of law enforcement in a country of free speech,” he continued. “This incident deserves thorough investigation, and we who believe in freedom of speech should press with all our strength to defend it.”
Bryan Kemper, who was a featured speaker at the rally, told WND that despite the irony of “our rights being taken away,” the rally was a huge success.
“Look out America, the Obama administration has awakened a sleeping giant and we will not back down,” he said.
As WND reported, the Stand Up For Religious Freedom rallies are a project of the Pro-Life Action League, united with 70 other organizations.
The groups are demanding President Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius withdraw mandates requiring nearly all private health insurance plans to cover the prescription contraceptive drugs and devices, surgical sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs, such as Plan B.
According to the Stand Up for Religious Freedom website, Friday’s rallies were held in 113 cities and attracted over 50,000 supporters.
College’s history of disliking signs
Further research into Sinclair Community College reveals this isn’t the first time campus police have stepped up to demand protest signs be put down.
The campus newspaper addressed this non-written sign policy in a March 2012 article, referring to a meeting in February held by the Traditional Values club that featured a guest speaking about former homosexuals.
Two members of the Brite Signals Alliance held up protest signs in the back of the room, one of which said, “You can’t pray away the gay,” and the other sign said “Love Gay, Cure Bacon.”
The protesters were asked by police to put down the signs, and they did.
But Borel tells WND that she organized the February event, saw the Brite Signals people holding signs, and took no issue with them.
“I really didn’t mind them standing in the back of the room, silently holding these signs,” Borel says. “The police were the ones who initiated contact with the sign holders. I think they had every right to hold those signs up at our meeting.”
The Clarion article says that Campus Police Chief Paul Gift allows his officers the discretion to remove signs.
“Signs are not specifically mentioned in the policy, but are forbidden because they can be disruptive,” Gift told the Clarion.