During Philadelphia's annual homosexual "Outfest" rally, 11 Christians were herded into a police truck for refusing to obey a police order to relocate, and for using signs and megaphones to proclaim Scripture verses during the gay-pride celebration. The Christians are members of the evangelistic group Repent America.
Repent America director Michael Marcavage, 25, is facing three felony charges and five misdemeanors. The felonies include conspiracy, inciting to riot, and ethnic intimidation-a charge filed under the state's hate-crimes law, which specifically mentions sexual orientation as one object of hate speech. Charges against seven of the Christians were dismissed. The others are now known as the "Philadelphia Four."
"This is the first time in this country where singing hymns, praying, and reading biblical passages have been described as 'hate speech' and 'fighting words,'" said Brian Fahling, senior trial attorney for the American Family Association Center for Law and Policy. Fahling has filed a federal suit to stop his clients from being tried by the Philadelphia courts.
Cathie Abookire, spokeswoman for the Philadelphia district attorney's office, said the case was "not about content of speech" but "conduct and behavior."
During the incident, which happened in October, several of the Christians were calling out, "Sodomists repent. You're going to hell," a police officer testified.
Marcavage said the case is about free speech. "The hate-crimes legislation is being used to target Christians who call homosexual behavior sin."
On January 21, Judge Pamela Dembe dissolved an order prohibiting the accused from gathering within 100 feet of any gay-rights event, calling the order "an unreasonable restriction on a person's right to ...