Posted: July 7, 2007
Christians have been arrested recently at "gay" festivals for nothing
more than having a protest sign that is "wider than their torso," but
now police have gone even further, targeting Bible-carrying ministers
for praying on public property and for standing on a public sidewalk
near a "gay" festival.
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 said 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."
Pastor Mark Holick was arrested for being on sidewalk at Wichita "gay" fest
The second such case arose in Wichita, Kan., where police arrested
Spirit One Christian Center Pastor Mark Holick, who had received
permission earlier from officers to be on the public sidewalk adjacent
to the park where the festival was occurring but then was arrested doing
Julian Raven, a street preacher, said that 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 said.
"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
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."
And the actions prompted some immediate criticism from newspaper readers.
"I was appalled and disgusted by the gay stories strewn through the …
paper. … What was even more disturbing was the way the city acted. Since
when is it illegal to sit on the ground in a public park and recite
Bible verses? Are they not protected by the same Constitution that
allows gay people to have their gay pride event. These Bible thumpers
had their constitutional right to free speech and assembly trampled on
by the city. They should not have been arrested," said Kevin Raznoff.
Robertson said that the Christians "certainly" have a right to assemble,
but not on public property when there's an "organized" event there.
Asked repeatedly about how the "disturbance" statute relates to First
Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech, he did not answer.
"Obviously, they caused a disruption to an event that was taking place,"
But Raven confirmed that 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.
Pastor Holick's case in Wichita was even more drastic. He had gone, with
a team from his church, to pass out flyers and pray at a recent "pride"
festival held there.
He had checked with the police department and was told, "The sidewalk is
"Upon arriving we began to set up," he said. "Immediately, I was
approached by WPD and told that we could not go into the park (a public
park mind you where everyone else – except the Christians – was allowed
in) and that we could not be on the sidewalk on that side of the street
but that we could go to the other side of the street.
"In other words, one side of the street is open to Christians but the
public park and the public sidewalk next to the park is not," he said.
But then Holick was arrested within about four minutes of his arrival.
"It is obvious that the WPD did not keep their word and that they wanted
to arrest as quickly as possible. The First Amendment … was cast aside
like so much garbage," he said.
"The sin is 'coming out' further and further and the church is now being
pushed further and further back inside the four walls of the church
building; we are the ones that are seen as 'the trouble makers.' The
police arrest the Christians and allow all manner of perversion to
flaunt itself in the streets of Wichita. And we the church … well … I'm
not sure we care," he said.
Police alleged that they asked Holick five times to "leave" the
festival, even though he never purchased the required admission fee or
Holick already had been 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.
Just a week earlier, it was reported that 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
Pastor Billy Ball, Assistant Pastor Doug Pitts, Frankie Primavera and
Josh Pettigrew, all of Faith Baptist Church in Primrose, Ga., were
arrested after leaving a small area set aside by city officials for
protest activities. Bill Holt, of Lighthouse Baptist Church in
Jefferson, Ga., was also taken into custody.
According to Lighthouse Pastor Kevin Whitman, the five men were told by
police their signs were not allowed outside the protest area because
they were wider than their torsos. When the men refused to put them
away, they were arrested for violating a controversial city ordinance
that governs permitted events.
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.
The resulting ordinance came under fire by the American Civil Liberties
Union and the Alliance Defense Fund for being too broad. It allows the
city to create prior restraints of speech on an event-by-event basis,
with virtually no predictable limits. It also criminalizes certain free
speech behavior around public events and authorizes the police to
enforce breaches of permits – the penalty for such breaches being arrest.