Tuesday, January 22, 2008

City sued for arresting pastor on public sidewalk:Police take just 195 seconds to detain 'peaceful' Christian leader

A lawsuit has been filed against the city of Wichita, Kan., and several of its police officers on behalf of a Christian pastor arrested just for being on public property.The civil-rights suit was filed by the Alliance Defense Fund, an advocacy organization that defends constitutional rights, on behalf of Mark Holick, pastor of Spirit One Christian Center.Spirit One also has been threatened by the Internal Revenue Service with an audit for posting messages on its marquee dealing with the value of human life, based on dozens of Bible references.Holick's arrest happened last summer when a homosexual festival was being held in a public park in Wichita.He went to share his Christian faith on public property, and it took only a little longer than three minutes after his arrival for police officers to arrest him.The trespassing charges later were dropped, but that doesn't solve the issue, according to the ADF."Exercising your First Amendment rights is not a crime," said Joel Oster, ADF senior legal counsel."Arresting Christians simply because they choose to exercise those rights in a public place is unconstitutional."The law firm noted that Holick was "attempting" to express his faith on a public sidewalk outside of an event in a public park that was celebrating homosexual behavior.
According to the records in the case, Holick had contacted the police department a week before the event and expressed his desire to communicate his religious views on the date of the homosex-fest. He was told he couldn't go into Heritage Square Park where it was being held but was told the sidewalk would be his "friend."Then on the day of the event, Holick and other church members arrived at the sidewalk outside the event and "immediately" were confronted by about 10 officers. He was ordered to leave the sidewalk or be arrested.He asked where he could go, and he was told the public sidewalks were off-limits to him, and he could go into a nearby privately owned parking lot, the lawsuit said.Since that was unreasonable, he refused, and was arrested, the lawsuit said.The trespassing count later was dismissed at the city's request after officials watched a videotape that revealed the pastor was conducting himself peacefully on a public sidewalk. But when ADF lawyers sent a request to the city asking for assurances that Holick would not be "similarly harassed" at future events, the request was ignored."Cities should not be able to silence Christian speech by arresting the speaker, only to later drop the charges after the event is over," said Oster."Such actions only serve to threaten future speakers and silence the Christian message."The claim alleges violations of the First and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.WND calls to the city went unanswered yesterday.
"Plaintiff seeks a permanent injunction and a declaration prohibiting Defendants from arresting him, or from otherwise restricting his speech, on traditional public fora due to the content and viewpoint of his speech, or because of his religion beliefs," the lawsuit said.It describes how he "wanted to communicate the gospel message to those persons participating in and attending the Event" and "wanted to attend the Event to build connections with attendees so that he might be able to share the gospel with them later."However, he never was allowed even to express his beliefs, because he was confronted by police officers "immediately," and within three minutes, 15 seconds, he had been arrested.The lawsuit alleged the city's policies and actions were arbitrary and capricious and denied Holick's fundamental rights."By forcing plaintiff to choose between abandoning his religious beliefs in order to gain access to speech in the traditional public forum, or abiding by his religious beliefs only to be arrested and prosecuted, defendants have imposed a substantial burden on plaintiff's sincerely held religious beliefs," it said.WND has reported on a series of such cases, in which Christians are arrested for praying at a homosexual festival or for nothing more than having a protest sign that is "wider than their torso."In Elmira, N.Y., police arrested seven Christians who went into a public park where a "gay" fest was beginning and started to pray, faces down, while holding their Bibles.They were cited for "disturbing the peace," and Assistant Police Chief Mike Robertson told WND the seven are accused of a "combination" of allegations under that statute, which includes the "intent" to cause a public inconvenience, any "disturbance" of a meeting of persons, obstructing vehicular or pedestrian traffic or taking part in "any act that serves no legitimate purpose."Another case developed when police in St. Petersburg, Fla., arrested five Christians for carrying signs "wider than their torsos" outside an officially designated protest area at that city's homosexual festival.St. Petersburg officials, following disturbances at a previous homosexual pride festival, implemented rules governing outdoor events that set aside "free speech zones" where protesters are allowed.
Holick's church earlier was targeted by the Internal Revenue Service for the moral statements he posted on the church's sign.The notice he got from the IRS warned him about putting his Christian beliefs on the sign, and he responded that he would continue to preach the Word of God. Attorneys said the church has responded to the IRS demands, and has not had further contact yet.In that case, Holick explained the signs all "are spiritual messages that communicate God's truth or are directly related to messages in the Bible." He also provided the IRS with a list of dozens of biblical instructions "to lift up Jesus, to rebuke sin, to save babies, to be honest, to take a righteous stand" and others.

As in the days of Noah....

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