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Appeals court rules against/for Christians arrested at "OutFest 2004"

PHILADELPHIA Despite being vindicated of all wrongdoing in criminal court, the Philadelphia 11 lost their federal lawsuit against the City of Philadelphia when an appeals court ruled that their rights were not violated when they were arrested and jailed for attempting to witness and preach the Gospel at a homosexual event in 2004. The suit was filed on behalf of eleven Christians, who became known as the Philadelphia 11, who were cleared of "hate crime" and other felony and misdemeanor charges following their arrests at the City's annual tax-payer funded homosexual event called "OutFest".

(Front, L-R) Arlene Elshinnawy, Susan Startzell, Lauren Murch, Nancy Major, Linda Beckman.
(Back, L-R) Gerald Fennell, Mark Diener, Dennis Green, Michael Marcavage, James Cruse, Randall Beckman


On October 10, 2004, six men and five women with Repent America (RA), who became known as the Philadelphia 11, were arrested while ministering the Gospel on the public streets and sidewalks of Philadelphia at a $10,000 tax-payer funded celebration of homosexuality called "OutFest," which was organized by Philly Pride Presents, Inc.

Prior to their arrest, the Christians were confronted by a militant mob of homosexuals known as the "Pink Angels" who blew loud whistles and carried large pink signs in front of them to block their message and access to the event, while others screamed obscenities. The Philadelphia police, under the direction of Chief Inspector James Tiano, the City's "police liaison to the gay and lesbian community," refused to take any action as the Christians were continuously followed, obstructed, and harassed, even though they respectfully cooperated with police, obeying orders to move, short of being directed out of the event.

After spending 21 hours in jail, Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham's office charged them under Pennsylvania's hate crimes law called "Ethnic Intimidation," along with a host of other felony and misdemeanor charges. If convicted, the Philadelphia 11 could have faced up to 47 years in prison and $90,000 in fines each. These charges were later dismissed by Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas Judge Pamela Dembe as being without merit. Subsequently, on October 21, 2005, the Philadelphia Eleven filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Philadelphia and Philly Pride Presents, Inc. for violations of their civil rights.

While, in its decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for The Third Circuit did ultimately side with the City of Philadelphia, it did make some important rulings which should serve to support the rights of Christians to speak in the public square. In its decision, the appeals court rejected U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence F. Stengel's decision from earlier this year in which he ruled that the Philadelphia 11 should have been prohibited from engaging in their constitutional rights on the public streets and sidewalks because "once the City issued a permit to Philly Pride for OutFest, it was empowered to enforce the permit by excluding persons expressing contrary messages." The appeals court found that despite the fact that the event organizers had a permit, the Philadelphia 11 had a constitutionally protected right to be present on the public streets and sidewalks within the event area and convey their message, even though that message was counter to the message being conveyed by the event.

Nevertheless, the appeals court found that the actions of the police were justified based on the court's perception that the Philadelphia 11 were "disrupting the event." The court came to this conclusion even though the Christians were not charged, arrested or even threatened with arrest for being "disruptive", which would have been a violation of Pennsylvania law, and after viewing the same video footage that cleared them of all felony and misdemeanor charges in criminal court. Despite overwhelming evidence showing the Christians being drowned out by homosexual activists as they complied with police directives to move, the Court made its ruling in favor of the defendants based on false and unsubstantiated "disruption" claims, which, since they were in dispute, should have been presented to a jury to decide.

"The court's ruling that the action taken by the police was justified because the Philly 11 were disrupting the event is concerning," said Ted Hoppe, the attorney for the Philadelphia 11. "We believe that a review of the video footage of the event clearly shows that the Philly 11 went out of their way to be cooperative and not be disruptive themselves. The only disruption that occurred, if any, was due to the crowd's reaction to the message that the Philly 11 was conveying," Hoppe continued. "It is encouraging that the court affirmed the rights of Christians to go into the public square and engage in free speech activities," Hoppe said. "However, it does seem somewhat contradictory to say that, on the one had the Philly 11 had a constitutionally protected right to be present at the event and to speak, but then to also say that if the crowd does not like their message, the Philly 11 can be removed," Hoppe concluded.

"The only disruption that took place that day was to our freedom of religion and speech," Michael Marcavage, director of Repent America (RA) and one of the Philadelphia 11. "The video evidence clearly shows that it was the homosexual activists who were drowning out our message of hope and redemption through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. As the homosexuals blocked us with Styrofoam boards, blew whistles in our faces and chanted profanities, the police did absolutely nothing to stop them," Marcavage continued. "In its opinion, the court made us out to be the ones causing the disruption, when it was completely the other way around. The appeals court upheld our rights to be at the event, but denied us justice at the same time," Marcavage continued. "The result in this case is another dangerous example of how hostility toward Biblical Christianity is growing in our nation, and ultimately how homosexual extremism will not only silence those who share their faith publicly, but the pulpit itself," Marcavage concluded.

In a related case, in November of last year, Repent America successfully had Pennsylvania's "hate crimes" law expansion struck down by Pennsylvania's Commonwealth Court because it had been passed unconstitutionally. The "hate crime" law, formally known as "Ethnic Intimidation", had been used against the Philadelphia 11. Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell appealed the Commonwealth's ruling to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which will be heard in the coming months. Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore and attorneys with the Foundation for Moral Law are arguing the case on behalf of Repent America.

"When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way to turn from it; if he do not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul." (Ezekiel 33:8-9)


"If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land." II Chronicles 7:14 KJV

Copyright 2008 REPENT AMERICA