PHILADELPHIA PROSECUTOR DROWNS IN SEA OF CONSTITUTIONALLY PROTECTED FREEDOMS
PHILADELPHIA - The felony and misdemeanor charges against the Christians with Repent America, who were arrested and jailed for preaching the Gospel at a homosexual street festival in October of last year, were dismissed today. Court of Common Pleas Judge Pamela Dembe dismissed all the charges against the four men. The charges against a 17-year-old girl were also dropped.
Eleven Christians, age-ranging from 17-72, were arrested and jailed for 21 hours for ministering at a city funded, public homosexual event called "OutFest" in October of 2004. The Christians were charged with three felonies and five misdemenors, which carried a potential sentence of up to 47 years in prison and $90,000 in fines each. Four of the men: Michael Marcavage, Mark Diener, Dennis Green, and James Cruse, were bound over for trial by District Court Judge William Austin Meehan, while seventeen year-old Lauren Murch with the group faced a separate trial.
The three felonies and five misdemeanors lodged against the "Philadelphia 11" were: Criminal Conspiracy (felony), Ethnic Intimidation - a "hate crime" (felony), Riot (felony), Possession of Instruments of Crime (misdemeanor), Reckless Endangerment of Another Person (misdemeanor), Failure to Disperse (misdemeanor), Disorderly Conduct (misdemeanor), and Obstructing Highways (misdemeanor).
During the hearing, which was on a 'motion to quash', the defendants' criminal defense attorney, C. Scott Shields, argued that all the charges were baseless and clearly violated the Christians constitutionally protected rights, specifically arguing that the Pennsylvania Constitution provides even greater free speech protection than the U.S. Constitution.
In her decision, after viewing the video for a second time and hearing arguement, Judge Dembe agreed and stated, "This is one of the very few countries that protects unpopular speech." "We cannot stifle speech because we don't want to hear it or we don't want to hear it now," she continued. She also stated that she reviewed each and every charge and found that they did not even meet basic law requirements.
At a previous hearing, after watching the 22-minute videotape of the events leading to the defendants' arrests, Judge Dembe dissolved an order prohibiting the men from being within one hundred feet of a homosexual event, saying, it "is an unreasonable restriction on a person’s right to speak," and admitted that their actions "did not amount to criminal behavior", and recommended that those who wish not to hear the speech move to another country.
"Prosecutor Charles Ehrlich drowned in our constitutionally protected freedoms," stated Michael Marcavage, director of Repent America. "On the shore anchored firmly in our nation's Biblical bedrock, we stood waiting with the Life Preserver, Jesus Christ, but the prosecutor decided to go down with the ship," Marcavage concluded.
"This ends only the first chapter in the ‘Philadelphia 11’ saga," stated Brian Fahling, senior trial attorney for the AFA Center for Law & Policy. "The next chapter is federal action against the officers and City of Philadelphia. We are still calling for the Department of Justice to investigate the corruption and profound abuse of power that we have seen in Philadelphia," Fahling added.
"Christianity is being criminalized," Marcavage said. "The attack against Christians by governement officials has never been so extreme, not only are they removing symbols of Christianity from the public square, but are now removing the Christians themselves," he continued.
"What is most disturbing about this case, aside from the arrests, imprisonment, and malicious prosecution, is the use of the Pennsylvania hate crime law called 'Ethnic Intimidation', which added 'sexual orientation' as a protected group," Marcavage said. "Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham knew exactly what she was doing when she targeted us with the hate law due to our biblical opposition to homosexal behavior," he continued. "Lynne Abraham sits on the National Executive Committee of the Anti-Defamation League, who are the architects of the hate crimes legislation," Marcavage concluded.
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