Tuesday, March 4, 2008

"Prince of Peace" Followers Guilty of Disrupting the Peace...

I know: you're thinking "This is news? When aren't they?" Well, most of the time, honestly, they are wonderfully peaceful, fun-loving human beings like you or I... But there are those annoyingly "victimized" (Ha!!) few who seems to think freedom of speech means freedom to be a pain in the ass....
If you read World Nut Daily or Jesus is Lord, you quickly realize that "peaceably" is a very relative term, "free speech" and "freedom of religion" means freedom to disobey law enforcement, and that it's okay to disrupt a public event as long as you think Jesus is on your side...

It seems that, during the 2007 Gay Pride Festival in Elmira, somewhere between four and seven Christians decided they wanted to save the souls of us poor homosexuals living in sin. Now, depending on which news story you read, you either get:
  • The Christians just wanted to pray near the park where the celebration was taking place, or
  • they laid down on the stage of the event, yelled at the crowd, and generally created a disturbance.
They were found guilty today of disorderly conduct and have to pay a fine of $100, plus $95 in court costs... Jesus is almost was worth $200 there, Alex.

From the World Nut Daily article:
One of the new cases comes from Elmira, N.Y., where 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 that 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."

[...] Julian Raven, a street preacher, told WND his group of seven assembled to pray for three hours the night before Elmira's recent "pride" festival in promotion of the homosexual lifestyle.

"We have a legal right to be at an event held in a public square. We're not a hate group," he said. "We're Christians and we're going to be there to pray."

He said he contacted police, who told him he had no free speech rights in the public park.

"The female officer, she said, 'You're not going to cross the street. You're not going to enter the park and you're not going to share your religion with anybody in this park,'" he told WND.

"When she said that, for the first time in my life as a Christian, I felt now my freedom of speech is threatened or challenged," he said. "I was being told I could not share my religion with anybody in that park."

Raven said he told the officer "she was violating the Constitution that she had sworn to uphold, and she was very agitated and adamant, and couldn't look me straight in the eye."

Raven asked for the justification for such a threat and was not given a response.

He said his team of Christians then went into the park, holding Bibles over their heads to signify their subservience to God's Word, and lay on their faces to pray.

Within three minutes, police officers had put handcuffs on the seven, to the cheers of the homosexual crowd, he said.

He said a court date is pending for the seven July 23.

"I have the highest respect for the police officers. They have a very difficult job to do. But we were treated unfairly in a public setting. This was a hasty show of force. It was not called for," he said.

He said if the situation is left unchallenged, the city of Elmira will be in the position of being able to control the content of people's messages in a lawful assembly ? or even thoughts if they are nearby.

"We didn't say boo to a goose, still we were arrested," he said.

The local newspaper reported the arrests came just "moments" after Elmira Mayor John Tonello delivered a speech "celebrating diversity."

[...] But Raven confirmed to WND the seven Christians did not approach a single person, did not speak to anyone and did not even make any audible statements until after they were arrested.
Aww... the poor Christians... You actually feel for them, don't you? Come on, come on, small round of applause for the spin job... After all ,ladies and gentlemen, World Nut Daily is the master of right-wing spin...

Now, from a slightly less biased source: an actual newspaper in Elmira, the Star-Gazette:
The four protesters claimed their right to free speech was violated when they were arrested June 23 after laying prostrate on the lawn in front of a temporary stage in the park.

They were among seven people at the festival wearing red T-shirts with the slogans "Liberated from Sin" and "By the Blood of Jesus."

[...] One of the four witnesses he called was Elmira Sgt. Sharon Moyer, head of the traffic bureau, who was on duty at the event.

She described her encounter with Julian Raven who had introduced himself to her and told her of his plans.

"He said he was there to preach the word of God," Moyer said.

"I explained he was welcome to be there (at the festival), but he would not be allowed to confront the participants."

Moyer said Raven was antagonistic.

Later, when Raven took the stand, he described Moyer as "aggressive from the get-go."

When she told him he wouldn't be allowed to confront the participants with his religious beliefs, he said his "heart began to beat."

"I felt violated," he said. "I felt my rights were being crushed."

While Moyer said he planned to confront festival participants, he described his intent as "sharing the message."

He said members of his group laid down in front of the stage to be as passive as possible.

"We were vulnerable," he said.

Moyer testified that although she had asked Raven to keep his group across North Main Street in the eastern portion of Wisner Park, she didn't move to arrest him when he and the others came across the street and walked single file on the diagonal sidewalk toward the stage.

But when they started to lay down with their heads toward the stage, she said she immediately slapped handcuffs on Raven and called for backup.

Under cross-examination, Moyer repeated that she warned Raven he would be arrested if he engaged in confrontational behavior, that she witnessed his behavior and its effect on the gathering and that she then acted on her warning.

"We were there to protect the safety of everyone," she said.

Oster said in his closing arguments that Raven and the others shouldn't have been arrested because their behavior might make other people angry.

He said the Supreme Court has ruled that it is unlawful to arrest black people at sit-ins just because they were making white people angry.

"The police have a duty to protect the speaker," he said.

Siglin countered in his closing argument that the case wasn't about religious freedom.

"The case is about public order," he said. "It is not about what was said."

After the verdict, Siglin said an important principle was upheld.

"I'm happy the efforts of the Elmira Police Department officers were recognized," Siglin said.

"Police need to feel confident about stepping in to protect the public before a situation escalates."

[...] Raven gave a quote from A.W. Towzier, a Christian writer, as his reaction: "Our only reward is being right in a wrong world," he said.
Of course, the bold is my addition to the article.

Please note the key differences in the two articles: World Nut Daily (and, of course, it's silly subscriber base) would have us believe that they couldn't "enter the park" (not true: "I explained he was welcome to be there (at the festival), but he would not be allowed to confront the participants."); WND would have us believe that "We didn't say boo to a goose, still we were arrested" (not true: "he planned to confront festival participants, he described his intent as "sharing the message."); WND would also have us believe that "[t]his was a hasty show of force" (not true: "she witnessed his behavior and its effect on the gathering and that she then acted on her warning [to arrest him after several warnings]...).

I'm sorry, but it almost--almost--sounds as if the Christians were (GASP!!!) looking for a fight!! These followers of the Prince of Peace, these adherents of the "turn the other cheek" Christ, these "servants" of the "treat others how you would want to be treated" god... Looking for a fight? Perish the thought!!

Of course, I'm wondering if I laid prostrate in front of the preacher at an Easter sermon in a public graveyard wearing a shirt that says something to the effect of "Jesus is Myth," or "Dead Men Don't Save Souls," would they be applauding my right to free speech? Treat me as they want to be treated in this above scenario? Somehow I doubt it...

Because disrupting a public event isn't a case of free speech--it's a case of being a nuisance, a disturber of the peace. You can preach till hell freezes over and cows sing the blues. You can stand outside of bars (like you already do), you can preach to the choir every Sunday from your pulpit (like you do), you can wear your T-shirts and shout your "message" (as if everyone hasn't heard it already...), but laying yourself down in front of a crowd that you know isn't there to celebrate your Jesus... And you want to claim victimization? Seriously? You really want to state for the record "We were vulnerable"? Are you freaking kidding me?

In my opinion, $195 isn't a high enough fine, but that's just me...

In this related article from an actual resident of Elmira, he observed the following:
Our Field Director Nora Yates attended the first one in 2004 along with several hundred members and friends of the Elmira LGBT community. She told us later that there were also a large number of police present to guarantee everyone’s safety as no one was quite sure what the reaction might be to such an open demonstration of LGBT Pride in Elmira.

This year the Mayor took part in the celebration for the very first time as a continuation of the city’s show of support for LGBT people. On the flip side, the religious right also showed up. Seven protesters wearing T-shirts that said "Liberated from Sin" tried to disrupt the celebration by blocking the stage and putting on a show of praying and scripture reading.
Didn't "say boo to a goose" my ass...

I wonder how much they'll take Jesus for now? $200 still seems way to small a fine...


Anonymous said...

That was one year ago today. I'm form Elmira, and today is the same annual gay pride event in Wisnor Park. And Julian Raven has announced he'll be there again today.

I'll write to you if he gets arrested again.

Emily Coletta said...

That was one year ago today. I'm form Elmira, and today is the same annual gay pride event in Wisnor Park. And Julian Raven has announced he'll be there again today.

I'll write to you if he gets arrested again.