JUDGE ORDERS CHRISTIANS TO STAND TRIAL; BANS
EVANGELISM WITHIN 100 FEET OF HOMOSEXUAL EVENTS
PHILADELPHIA - At a preliminary hearing held December 14, Philadelphia Municipal Court Judge William Austin Meehan dismissed charges against six Christians who were evangelizing at the 2004 “Outfest”, but upheld felony and misdemeanor charges against four others accused of “hate crimes” at the homosexual celebration. Judge Meehan also banned the four men from doing any type of evangelism within 100 feet of any “gay and lesbian event”.
The Christians were a part of an evangelistic effort organized by Repent America, which frequently preaches at homosexual gatherings in Philadelphia. The charges against Repent America Director Michael Marcavage include three felonies: Criminal Conspiracy, Ethnic Intimidation, which falls under “Hate Crimes”, and Riot; as well as five Misdemeanors: Reckless Endangerment, Possession of Instruments of Crime, Failure to Disperse, Disorderly Conduct, and Obstructing Highways. Mark Diener and James Cruse are charged with Criminal Conspiracy, Failure to Disperse, Disorderly Conduct, and Obstructing Highways. Dennis Green is charged with Criminal Conspiracy, Disorderly Conduct, and Obstructing Highways. The "Criminal Conspiracy" charge links all of the Defendants together, therefore Marcavage's "Ethnic Intimidation" charge will be linked to the other Defendants.
During the hearing, Judge Meehan watched a videotape of the arrests, and turned his head toward the Defendants each time he saw one of them in the video footage. Apparently, the charges were dropped against the six other Defendants because they were not seen quoting scripture on the videotape.
In his closing argument before Judge Meehan at the preliminary hearing, prosecutor Charles Ehrlich, Chief of the Municipal Court Unit, went into a fit of rage, and declared the Bible "hate speech", while he passionately argued to the court that the Defendants are "hateful" and "disgusting,” and therefore should all be found guilty.
American Family Association Center for Law and Policy (AFACLP) attorney Brian Fahling filed on behalf of the Repent America team in early December to block the prosecution, but U.S. District Judge Petrese B. Tucker last week refused; and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third District, in response to an emergency appeal, subsequently refused to reverse her ruling.
Only two days prior to the “Outfest” event, Marcavage’s attorneys filed a lawsuit against the City of Philadelphia and its agents for civil rights violations, contending that the City and the police have a “policy, practice and custom” of denying Marcavage’s First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by continually harassing, intimidating, threatening, and arresting him for his public ministry.
During "OutFest", the police allowed the “Pink Angels,” a self-proclaimed gay security force, to obstruct and harass the Christians when they surrounded them, linked arms to prevent access to public areas, and held 10-foot pink Styrofoam placards while shouting and blowing loud whistles. Fran Price, community liaison for Philly Pride Presents, the sponsor of “Outfest”, acknowledged that there was a potential for violence when she stated that the “Pink Angels were there to defuse a riot and to protect the protestors from getting beaten up” - presumably by the “Outfest” crowd.
Scott Shields, criminal defense attorney for the 'Philadelphia 11', stated after the ruling that “the message of this court is that if you preach from the Scriptures at a gay and lesbian event, you are committing a hate crime... This case is historic, and is the first reported case in America where the Bible is being used to form the evidentiary basis for a hate crime. Now, here in the cradle of liberty and the birthplace of our nation, it is a crime to be openly Christian."
A separate preliminary hearing for a teenage defendant was originally scheduled for December 10 in juvenile court, but has been postponed. The trial date for the four remaining adult defendants has not yet been set.
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