Tuesday, February 12, 2008

'Philly 11' Christians appeal lawsuit over arrests

Eleven Christians arrested for expressing their beliefs publicly during a so-called "gay pride" festival in Philadelphia several years ago were in court Monday, seeking to have their lawsuit against the city reinstated.The 11 individuals were arrested in 2004 at Philadelphia's "OutFest," a pro-homosexual event held on public property. The Christian activists were charged with various crimes for quoting scriptures while walking on a public street set aside for the event. Charges were dropped almost immediately against all but five of the Christians, and those five were later found not guilty of all charges. According to attorney Joseph Infranco, those actions paved the way for a civil suit against the City of Philadelphia and the OutFest participants, claiming that his clients suffered constitutional harm as a result and arguing no one else should be subjected to such actions."So this is a civil suit now, to make them accountable for their actions-and filing those criminal charges was part of that," he adds. Infranco, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, was at Monday's hearing, which asked appeals court judges to reinstate the lawsuit dismissed by the initial civil trial judge.The consensus at that time, he shares, was that the judges were more sympathetic to his clients than to those accused of violating their constitutional rights."They got the point," says Infranco, referring to the judges. "They got the point that when somebody goes into the public square and has an event and exercises their First Amendment rights-that when you open such an event to the public, then you have to anticipate that some members of the public who disagree with that speech are going to be present, as well." According to the ADF attorney, the same would be true if the tables were turned. "If you had a Christian event and you invited the public and it was in a public place ... well, you would have to expect other people would come along who want to express a contrary view," he suggests. "We're not trying to shout them down or anything like that.But what you're talking about is both views being expressed, side by side." Infranco says winning the lawsuit is important to protect other Christians from what he describes as "constitutionally abhorrent" actions against them in the future."We...want what's called declaratory relief, so that the court...says there should not be a repeat of this at a future event," the attorney explains."It's the most basic form of discrimination because the police did not like the content of the message-and that's completely inconsistent with the First Amendment."A decision from the appeals court is expected in approximately two to three months, adds Infranco.

As in the days of Noah....

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