DISTRICT ATTORNEY FAILS IN ATTEMPT TO PROSECUTE
EVANGELIST FOR MINISTERING ON SIDEWALK 6/5/06
WEST CHESTER, PA - Today, Chester County Common Pleas Court Judge James P. MacElree II ruled that Repent America (RA) director Michael Marcavage did not violate the law while he was ministering on a public sidewalk near the campus of West Chester University last year. Despite the prosecution’s vigorous efforts to see the evangelist stand trial, Judge MacElree dismissed a trespassing charge, dissolved a lower court’s restriction barring the public minister from the campus, and declared that the University’s permitting policy does not pass constitutional muster.
On October 13, 2005, during RA’s pro-life evangelism tour, Michael Marcavage was standing on a public sidewalk with a sign displaying the reality of abortion near the state-owned campus of West Chester University in West Chester, Pennsylvania. University officials responded by ordering campus police to issue Marcavage a trespassing citation for refusing to submit to its permitting process. The process requires that a registration form be completed and approved two hours in advance before any expressive activity can be conducted on or near the public campus, which violates constitutionally protected rights under both the Pennsylvania and United States Constitutions.
"To allow a citizen to stand on a street corner legally and then treat that same person as a trespasser once they begin to engage in constitutionally protected speech is patently offensive to the very reason why our Founding Fathers enacted such strong free speech protections," stated C. Scott Shields, attorney for Marcavage. "West Chester University is a modern day 1600’s era England where all speech is censored, and District Attorney Carroll has vowed to use all available resources to prosecute any person who chooses to exercise their individual right to free speech on the University campus," Shields continued.
In a hearing held on May 15, 2006, Assistant District Attorney John Pavlov, on behalf of Chester County District Attorney Joseph W. Carroll’s office, argued against the motion to dismiss filed by Marcavage’s legal counsel, demanding that the evangelist stand trial for the charge of "Defiant Trespass," which, if convicted, could have resulted in up to a year in prison and a $2,500 fine. After hearing argument, Judge MacElree spoke on the greater value that Pennsylvania’s Constitution extends to our freedoms, and reluctantly agreed to allow the prosecutor additional time to file a legal brief in support of his argument, but warned: "I don’t see how you can win."
Today, Judge MacElree officially dismissed the case against Marcavage, automatically dissolving a district court’s bail restriction barring him from the campus and freeing him from further prosecution.
"At the hearing held on May 15, Assistant District Attorney Pavlov had the impossible task to argue any basis on which to sustain the prosecution against Mr. Marcavage, knowing that free speech protections in the public square lie at the very core of our First Amendment. The clear winner here is free speech as Judge MacElree has held that the District Attorney's office cannot prosecute an individual for exercising one of our core liberties," stated Shields. "Since the incident we have filed a federal lawsuit and look forward to obtaining an order declaring the policy unconstitutional, which will hopefully empower Mr. Marcavage and others to go out into the public square to present the truth and spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ without the threat of being arrested and prosecuted," Shields concluded.
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