The Supreme Court in Pennsylvania has declared the “hate crimes” laws used to jail the Philadelphia 11 in 2004 violated the state constitution.
In a four-line statement this week, the court said the ruling from the lower Commonwealth Court “is affirmed for the reasons ably set forth in the opinion of the Honorable James Gardner Collins, which opinion is adopted as that of the Supreme Court.”
“We are very happy that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled in our favor to stop the governor and a group of corrupt politicians from sneaking a ‘hate crimes’ bill through the Pennsylvania legislature,” said Judge Roy Moore, of the Foundation for Moral Law.
“Preaching to homosexuals about the sin of sodomy should not be made a ‘thought crime’ in Pennsylvania or any other state,” he said.
Michael Marcavage, director of Repent America and a petitioner in the case, said, “Having been arrested, jailed and charged with a ‘hate crime’ for preaching the Gospel, I am elated that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s ruling in striking down Pennsylvania’s expanded ‘hate crimes’ law.”
He said the methods used in the legislature to implement the law were “extremely devious.”
Marcavage called it “yet another chilling example as to how far politicians are willing to go to silence Christian speech that they would violate our own state constitution to do it.”
“In a nation that is becoming increasingly hostile toward biblical Christianity, we remain vigilant as the Pennsylvania legislature will most likely attempt to pass another ‘hate crimes’ bill and are continuing to educate the American people on the significant dangers of such laws,” he said.
The group of Christians, who were given the title Philadelphia 11, had been giving their testimony on public property at the city’s tax-funded celebration of homosexuality in the city’s downtown in 2004.
But based on a 2002 “hate crimes” plan then in force in the state, they were arrested, jailed and threatened with up to five decades in jail.
The criminal charges later were dismissed and the group members then challenged the law itself, suing over its adoption. The Supreme Court’s ruling affirms the 4-1 decision in the Commonwealth Court that the amendments were unconstitutional.
The petitioners said the passage of the bill, which originally criminalized agricultural crop destruction but was altered to become the first proposal in Pennsylvania to recognize “sexual orientation” as a protected class, failed to follow Article III of the state constitution. That provision prohibits the complete overhaul of a bill in the course of its passage.
The provisions adopted under the failed procedure increased penalties for crimes based on what the criminal was thinking, specifying the additional penalties for “actual or perceived … ancestry, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, gender or gender identity.”
“The legislative process that led to the enactment of these amendments clearly violated Article III of the Pennsylvania Constitution,” Aaron Martin, attorney for Repent America, said after the earlier court decision. “The court rightly found that there was no logical or legal connection between trampling down a hay field and assaulting someone on the basis of sexual orientation.”
The Commonwealth Court opinion written by Collins was joined by Judges Doris Smith-Ribner, Dan Pellegrini and Robert Simpson. Judge Bonnie Ledbetter dissented. With the new order, it has been adopted as the Supreme Court’s opinion, too
The bill had been signed into law by ex-Gov. Mark Schweiker.
Repent America said the case was pursued because members plan to share their testimonies at future public events, and they were concerned charges would be brought – again.
In this case, the courts said: “We agree with petitioners that [the law] did not retain its original purpose as it moved through the enactment process. … The original version and final version of HB 1493 regulate vastly different activities.”
The Philadelphia 11 also filed a civil rights lawsuit over the events of that day, and that case most recently was turned back by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.