12/06 UPDATE: Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell has appealed the Commonwealth Court's ruling. Repent America will now continue in the battle against this unconstitutional legislation at the Pennsylvania Supreme Court level. Please pray that God's will be done.
PENNSYLVANIA’S COMMONWEALTH COURT
STRIKES DOWN "HATE CRIMES" LAW EXPANSION 11/15/07
PHILADELPHIA - The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court in a 4-1 decision today struck down amendments to the state's "hate crimes" law, declaring that the amendments enacted in 2002 were "unconstitutional and therefore null and void.” The ruling was a victory for Repent America (RA), a Christian evangelistic organization, several of whose members challenged amendments.
“Praise the Lord!” stated RA director Michael Marcavage upon hearing the decision. “This is a victory for constitutional government, so let us be thankful,” he concluded.
The legal challenge to the law, formally known as the Ethnic Intimidation Law, stemmed from the arrests of eleven Christians with RA, who became known as the Philadelphia 11, after they were jailed and charged under the amendments to the law while ministering the Gospel in 2004 at a publicly-funded homosexual event known as "OutFest". The charges were all later dropped and/or dismissed as being without merit.
Seven defendants in the Philadelphia criminal cases subsequently filed an action in the Commonwealth Court challenging the process by which the amendments to the Ethnic Intimidation statute had been enacted. In particular, the petitioners asserted that the passage of the bill – which originally criminalized agricultural crop destruction but through amendment became the first statute in Pennsylvania history to recognize “sexual orientation” as a protected class – violated various sections of Article III of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Section 1 of Article III prohibits the changing of a bill in the course of its passage through the legislature such that its original purpose is changed. Section 3 of Article III requires that the subject matter of a bill be clearly expressed in its title.
The Court, finding sufficient basis to rule in the petitioners’ favor due to an alteration of purpose of the bill as expressed in its original text, declined to rule on the challenge brought under Article III, section 3. The amendments struck down today would have increased the penalties for various crimes committed with a malicious motivation based upon "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," stated Aaron Martin, attorney for the Repent America defendants. “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," he concluded.
The Court’s majority opinion was authored by President Judge Emeritus James Gardner Collins, who was joined by Judges Doris A. Smth-Ribner, Dan Pellegrini and Robert Simpson. President Judge Bonnie B. Leadbetter dissented without opinion. The full text of the Court’s opinion can be found by clicking here.