EASTERN PA. Charges are dismissed for gay parade protester
The judge said the man did not threaten the crowd or incite violence.
PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- A city judge dismissed all charges Thursday against four members of a conservative Christian group who were arrested last fall while picketing a street festival for gays and lesbians.
Common Pleas Judge Pamela Dembe tossed the charges after watching a videotape of the events leading to the arrests.
She said that while the protesters' message that homosexuality is a sin clearly enraged the crowd, the tape showed that they didn't threaten anyone and didn't incite violence.
"We are one of the very few countries that protect unpopular speech. And that means that Nazis can March in Skokie, Ill. ... That means that the Ku Klux Klan can march where they wish to," Dembe said. "We cannot stifle speech because we don't want to hear it, or we don't want to hear it now."
The demonstrators, affiliated with a group called Repent America, say their opposition to homosexuality is based on the Bible. They had faced a variety of charges, including felonies, for their protest last fall at the Outfest event in downtown Philadelphia.
Prosecutors had said the bullhorn-wielding activists, led by Repent America founder Michael Marcavage of Lansdowne, were trying to incite the crowd.
Police tried moving the group to several different spots within the festival area, but at each location they were surrounded by gay activists blowing whistles. Officers began making arrests when the group refused a directive to go to yet another spot. They allowed Marcavage to preach through a bullhorn for several minutes before placing him in handcuffs.