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Muslims' complaint over pastor's speech dismissed

A pastor who argued against a plan by a Muslim organization to buy public property in Pennsylvania has won his free-speech lawsuit.

The Thomas More Law Center said a federal judge has dismissed a claim against Pastor Bruce Leonatti of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in North Huntington, Pennsylvania.

Leonatti also is president of the Pittsburgh Chapter of ACT for America.

He was sued by an Islamic organization, HIRA Educational Services of North America, for opposing the plan. HIRA does consulting for Islamic schools and organizations.

U.S. District Judge Marilyn Horan in Pennsylvania found there was no connection between the pastor’s comments and the outcome of the land deal.

Richard Thompson, president of the Thomas More Law Center, said, “We applaud the steadfast courage and fortitude of 74-year-old Pastor Leonatti who stood his ground against the intimidating tactics of HIRA and its baseless lawsuit.”

The legal team explained HIRA sought to purchase property owned by the state of Pennsylvania.

“During a public meeting prior to the sale, Pastor Leonatti expressed his opposition to the sale to HIRA over concerns that the property might be used as a refugee resettlement center. Although Pennsylvania began the process of selling the property to HIRA, the sale eventually fell through because of concerns related to tax payments and potential collusion in the bidding process.”

The consulting company sued the pastor even though his statements “had nothing” to do with why the sale fell through, the team explained.

The center asked the court to dismiss the case but initially was denied.

However, TMLC later filed a motion for sanctions against HIRA and its attorneys, claiming the lawsuit against Leonatti had no legal merit.

“At the hearing on the motion for sanctions, the judge decided on her own to consider the motion for sanctions as a renewed motion to dismiss.”

The judge said: “Not only do the facts pleaded by plaintiff show that defendant Leonatti’s conduct had no impact on DGS’s [the PA agency] decision to move forward with forming the land sale contract with plaintiff, but plaintiff does not plead any facts establishing a causal connection between defendant Leonatti’s alleged conduct and the decision by the defendant Township Supervisors to institute legal proceedings.”