Park Church in Elmira, N.Y.

A United Church of Christ congregation in upstate New York is pursuing a felony criminal mischief charge against a Christian who allegedly protested a homosexual festival by anointing its church building with cooking or baking oil.

A status hearing was held today in the case brought by the Park
of Elmira, N.Y., against Holly Somers. Prosecutors confirmed Somers had been charged but not yet indicted and there had been discussions with a public defender representing her.

It is the second criminal case to emerge from the city’s promotional event for “gay” pride in 2007. WND previously reported a case against four Christians fined for praying in Wisner Park, the public park adjacent to Park Church, during the pride festival.

A notice of appeal now has been filed in that case by 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.”

That case stems from a visit by seven Christians to the “gay” pride event. 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.

The new case cites Somers as a defendant and alleges she caused $2,875 in damages to the windows and window frames, doors and door frames “as well as the stone and masonry work” at the church by allegedly anointing those points with oil.

She told WND she has an appointment with her public defender in several weeks, and the next hearing in the case is at the end of April.

Julian Raven told WND a group of Christians had gone to the park to pray.

“It’s ridiculous. These people are prosecuting her for the crime of anointing with oil the windows and front door of the church,” he said.

Prosecuting attorney Weeden Wetmore told WND he recalled that the allegations were that baking or cooking oil was put on the church entrances and stairs.

He said the church reported the incident, and the defendant apparently was identified through tape obtained from a security camera.

The complaint, faxed to WND by the prosecutor, alleges Somers “having no right to do so nor any reasonable grounds to believe that [she] had the right did intentionally damage the property of another person in the amount exceeding” $1,500.

Specifically, she was accused of placing “an unknown oily type substance on various areas of the church building. Said substance … [was] reported to have caused long term damage to the stone and masonry work, as well as damage to the painted surfaces of the church building which resulted in [an] approximate cost of $2,875 for repairs to the painted surfaces.”

Mimi Gridley, the office manager for the church, did not respond to WND requests for comment on the damage and the church’s repairs. But William Benedict, a church council officer, said a contractor had been hired to do some repainting and the church staff was assigned to clean other areas.

“It was a lot of work,” he told WND.

The Park Church lists its affiliation with the UCC and provides a link to the denomination, which has pages of Web information on its programs on behalf of homosexuals.

It specifically provides information about its advocacy for “marriage equality” as well as “hate crimes” legislation. One of its promotions is for the “Day of Silence,” a nationwide event held in public schools in which students and faculty are encouraged to protest society’s unwillingness to endorse homosexual behavior.

Somers’ case stems from an incident last June. That month the Ravens and others were arrested after they entered Elmira’s Wisner Park with their heads bowed to pray for the participants of the homosexual festival going on at the time.. Advertising for the event stated it was open to the public.

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.”

When the Christians were arrested, officials with Elmira justified their actions to WND.

Assistant Police Chief Mike Robertson said 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.”


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