Monday, January 10, 2005

The Culture Wars, part 5

The Radical Right's Latest Courtroom Drama
"...If these charges stand, Christians across America will soon be hunted down like dogs as they are in many parts of the world today as the most persecuted religious group on the planet."


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The Radical Right's Latest Courtroom Drama
Sarah Posner (2:52PM) link

If you don't read the extremist conservative press, you probably haven't heard about the Philadelphia 4. They are four radical homophobic evangelists arrested in October for disrupting the annual gay festival, Outfest, sponsored by Philly Pride and St. Luke and the Epiphany Church in Philadelphia. They have been charged with criminal conspiracy, ethnic intimidation (under Pennsylvania's hate crime statute, gays are a protected group), riot, obstructing a highway, recklessly endangering another person, failure to disperse, disorderly conduct, and possession of an instrument of crime.

The ringleader of the group is Michael Marcavage, the head of an organization called Repent America. Marcavage thinks that "as Christians, we know that there is a literal hell and a lake of fire where the unsaved will burn for all eternity, therefore, we act upon this Truth without reservation and GO OUT into the streets and communities of America declaring the WORD OF GOD and proclaiming the GOOD NEWS. . . .We must go out to where the sinners are. We must go to those who would never come into our churches-- to the atheists, to the religious, to the self-righteous, to the God-hating and win their souls to Christ." Marcavage has made a career of attending gay festivals and other events to harass gays with the "good news" that they are sinners and they are going to hell. Armed with signs and bullhorns, he tells gays that homosexuality is a sin, they are going to hell, and they need to repent. It's not just some nice, neighborly advice. It's not a message from a loving and peaceful God. It's harassment, plain and simple. Marcavage may have a First Amendment right to stand on a street corner and read from the Bible, but he's not doing that. He's getting in people's faces and harassing them.

But with the help of some well-funded extremist religious groups, he has painted a picture of himself as the persecuted messenger, who is only trying to preach the gospel, and the homosexual-loving law enforcement agencies are shutting him down. As a result, he's become a cause celebre in the conservative press. His lawyer, Brian Fahling of the American Family Association, has likened the prosecution of Marcavage to the civil rights struggles of African-Americans, adding that "Stalin would be proud." Fahling also appeared earlier this week on The O'Reilly Factor, where he called the case "the clearest example of anti-Christian bigotry by city officials in the last century." His boss, American Family Association President Tim Wildmon, asserted in December that "the past month has poured forth cases of Christian persecution seen in the higher education institution, public school systems, and the judicial court system." Marcavage himself has said that "Christianity is being criminalized by the homosexual agenda." Interviewed on a Concerned Women for America radio program, Marcavage asserted that the Philadelphia prosecutors have no evidence he used "hate words" except for the fact he was reading from the Bible. WorldNetDaily's Joseph Farah complained that Pennsylvania's hate crime laws protect the "sexually aberrant" and added that Marcavage's prosecution "is one of the most brazen, frontal attacks on religious freedom and free speech I have seen in my lifetime. If these charges stand, Christians across America will soon be hunted down like dogs as they are in many parts of the world today as the most persecuted religious group on the planet."

Marcavage and his cohorts filed a lawsuit seeking a federal court's intervention to stop their prosecution in state court, which would require the federal court to take an extraordinary step only used when the state prosecution is conducted in bad faith or for the purposes of retaliation. Marcavage, of course, claimed that the prosecution was in bad faith and retaliated against him for his Christian beliefs. The district court rejected those claims, and the court of appeals affirmed, allowing the prosecution to go forward. (Marcavage's defenders have made much of the fact that the federal trial court judge is a Clinton appointee, but make nothing of the fact that one of the appellate judges affirming her order is a Bush appointee.) According to court papers filed by the City of Philadelphia in the lawsuit, the organizers of Outfest had a permit to hold a special event on October 10, 2004; Marcavage's group of 11 people did not. Philadelphia police allowed Marcavage and his group to express themselves until they began to disrupt the event: Marcavage "used bullhorns and yelled offensive messages to the Outfest participants . . . . interfered with and unreasonably disturbed the Outfest activities." Moreover, Marcavage's group "refused multiple requests to relocate their protests to an area that would allow their message to be heard, without interfering with the ongoing permitted event." After "reasonable requests and warnings" from the police, the 11 were arrested. (Charges against seven were later dropped.)

Now that the federal court has said the state prosecution can go forward, Fahling is asking the Civil Rights Division of the United States Justice Department to intervene in the case on Marcavage's behalf, on the grounds that the prosecution is a form of religious discrimination. While extremist activists are asking the public to press the Justice Department to get involved in the case, WorldNetDaily has a breathless "exclusive" today under the headline "U.S. Attorneys Complicit in the Arrest of Christians?" While the headline suggests that Justice Department attorneys offered legal advice to the police to arrest Marcavage, the article later quotes the source as saying, "They advised the police as witnesses, not as legal counsel, but as witnesses who may have observed what happened." The article is replete with suggestions of a gay infiltration of the Justice Department, owing to civil servant holdovers from the Clinton Administration. So you can guess what's coming after the Justice Department declines to defend Marcavage: that's right, the place is just crawling with anti-Christian homosexuals.

This is not Marcavage's first brush with Philadelphia area law enforcement. In 1999, when he was a student at Temple University, university officials had him involuntarily committed to a mental institution as a result of behavior stemming of his protest of a campus production of the play Corpus Christi. Fahling represents him in a federal lawsuit against the university, which is scheduled to go to trial later this year. In addition, he's been arrested on numerous other occasions stemming from his conduct at various events. In other criminal cases against Marcavage in the Philadelphia area, he's had legal help from attorneys with the Lancaster law firm of Clymer and Musser, who identify themselves as "allies" of the Alliance Defense Fund, the James Dobson-backed group that also claims that American Christians are persecuted and discriminated against.

President Bush may well owe his presidency to the bloc of voters turned out by groups like the American Family Association, who went to the polls energized by Bush's stated commitment to a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Don Wildmon, Chair of the American Family Association, was part of a group of extremist evangelicals who early last year pressed President Bush to support a constitutional amendment. After the group's public statements, Wildmon reported that none other than Karl Rove himself promised the group that Bush would make such a commitment. And he did. While Bush stated in his announcement that "in all that lies ahead, let us match strong convictions with kindness and goodwill and decency," Wildmon et al. were whipping their supporters into an anti-gay frenzy, spurred by provocations by people like Marcavage. But Bush doesn't care that his support came from these purveyors of vitriol. It's just part of the political capital he earned by helping them promote hate.

1:36 AM  

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