PASSHE ATTEMPTS TO BAN PRO-LIFE MESSAGE
THROUGH CRIMINAL PROSECUTION 1/19/06
WEST CHESTER, PA - The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) is attempting to ban the free exercise of constitutionally protected speech on its college campuses through the criminal prosecution of a Christian pro-life activist.
In October of last year, Repent America (RA) director Michael Marcavage was standing on a public sidewalk with a sign displaying the reality of abortion near the campus of West Chester University, one of 14 schools operated by the PASSHE. In response, university police cited Marcavage for “Defiant Trespass” for refusing to surrender his First Amendment rights to "free exercise of religion" and "free speech".
Police were responding to Marcavage’s refusal to submit to the state university’s unconstitutional permit conditions, which require that a registration form be completed and approved two hours in advance before any First Amendment activity can be conducted, even if the activity is on a public sidewalk near campus.
The incident occurred during RA's annual pro-life evangelism tour with this being the second consecutive year that school officials have been successful in silencing the pro-life message through the use of the policy.
"Once again, the power of the state is being used to stifle constitutionally protected activity through the filing of criminal charges against Christians in an effort to ban them from the public square," stated C. Scott Shields, attorney for Marcavage. “The university’s unconstitutional registration requirement forces individuals to relinquish their right to engage in First Amendment activity spontaneously and anonymously,” Shields continued.
Earlier this month, school officials attempted to have Leslie Lewis Johnson, an attorney for the PASSHE, illegally argue the criminal case in district court, which is prohibited by the state's rules of criminal procedure without prior authorization from the district attorney. In response, District Court Judge Mark Bruno granted a continuance until January 18 so that university officials would have another opportunity to obtain the necessary approval.
After discussions with the PASSHE's attorney on January 17, Chester County District Attorney Joseph W. Carroll ordered police to drop the summary offense, so that the charge of “Defiant Trespass” could be escalated to a misdemeanor level. The change now subjects Marcavage to criminal prosecution by the district attorney’s office, which requires a preliminary hearing and will result in a jury trial. If convicted, Marcavage faces up to a year in prison and a $2,500 fine.
“The Chester County District Attorney’s Office stated that Mr. Marcavage has engaged in criminal activity and that he will be subject to the full weight of the criminal justice system,” Shields said. “This is an unfortunate waste of taxpayer money that should be spent prosecuting real criminals, instead of Christians who utilize lawful expressive activity to follow Biblical mandates,” Shields concluded.
Please contact Chester County District Attorney Joseph W. Carroll and urge him to stop using the criminal courts to suppress the Word of God and to immediately end the illegal prosecution of Michael Marcavage by completing this form or by e-mailing him at JCarroll@chesco.org
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