San Francisco police are accused of intimidating and threatening to arrest a man who was holding up a “John 3:16” sign in front of AT&T Park prior to a Dodgers-Giants baseball game.
The man, Gino Emmerich, has hired attorneys with the Rutherford Institute to take his case. They filed suit in late June against the city, county, its police department and the four officers who allegedly tried to squelch his First Amendment rights.
Emmerich was standing on the public plaza in front of AT&T Park where a camera crew from ESPN was filming a pre-game show before the Giants-Dodgers game. The ESPN producer told him not to flash his sign in view of his cameras or he would be arrested.
Holding “John 3:16” signs at public sporting events has been a part of American sports culture for decades.
Rollen Frederick Stewart, also known as Rock ‘n’ Rollen and Rainbow Man, is believed to have started the tradition when he became a fixture in American sporting events in the 1970s and 80s. He would appear on camera wearing a rainbow-colored afro-style wig and holding up signs reading “John 3:16.”
Emmerich has also been practicing his “sign ministry” for years, according to his website. In 2012 a man flashed one of Emmerich’s John 3:16 signs behind home plate during the deciding game-four of the Giants-Tigers World Series. It was seen by millions on national TV.
ESPN was well aware of Emmerich’s ministry and its producers are apparently not fans.
Prior to the start of the July 27, 2014, game, Emmerich arrived at Willie Mays Plaza carrying a sign broadcasting “John 3:16”, a biblical verse central to Christianity.
Other people were in the plaza, some displaying signs and otherwise communicating messages, according to the lawsuit.
Also in the plaza was a makeshift broadcast booth put together for a live broadcast and discussion of the game for ESPN SportsCenter.
As Emmerich neared the broadcast booth, he was approached by one of the show’s producers and four uniformed San Francisco police officers.
Emmerich was warned by the producer that if he showed his sign, he would be arrested based upon the fact that he was known to the producer as one who displays religious signage.
After the producer walked away, Emmerich positioned himself in view of the camera, behind the commentators, and held up his John 3:16 sign.
While Emmerich was holding up his sign, a police officer grabbed him from behind by his shirt and neck and moved him out of the view of the camera.
Once Emmerich was clear of the cameras, he was surrounded by four police officers and warned, “If you go over there and hold that sign again, we will arrest you and the sergeant will come over here and decide where we are going to take you.”
Emmerich then left the plaza to avoid being arrested.
ESPN is the same network which gave its annual “Courage” Award to Caitlyn (formerly Bruce) Jenner over a high school girl who played basketball until just a few days before her death from cancer.
The First Amendment suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California by Rutherford Institute attorneys. They charge that officers violated Emmerich’s right to free speech and assembly when they forcefully removed him from Willie Mays Plaza, surrounded him and threatened him with arrest if he did not cease displaying his “John 3:16” sign.
Emmerich was peacefully exercising his First Amendment rights in a place he had every lawful right to be, according to Rutherford attorneys.
He was “in no way causing a disruption in the plaza, the baseball stadium known as ‘AT&T Park,’ or any other business or agency in the area, nor was he acting in a criminal manner,” according to a statement emailed to WND by Rutherford Institute. “Moreover, other people in the plaza were displaying signs and communicating messages.”
“Much of what used to be great about America — especially as it pertains to our love of freedom and our commitment to First Amendment activities — has been overshadowed by a greater desire for security and an inclination towards political correctness,” said John W. Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute and author of “Battlefield America: The War on the American People.”
The four cops with San Francisco P.D. are being sued both in their official capacities and personally.
“That this incident, with its police intimidation tactics, overt discrimination and censorship, took place in a public plaza dedicated to Willie Mays, a legendary baseball player who lived through an era of police tactics, discrimination and censorship, is a powerful indictment of all that is wrong with America today,” Whitehead said.
In filing suit against the city and county of San Francisco and the four police officers, Rutherford attorneys said the officers had no lawful or probable cause to arrest, detain, or seize Emmerich.
Attorney Michael Millen of Los Gatos, California, is assisting the Rutherford Institute in its defense of Gino Emmerich’s First Amendment rights.