Monday, January 10, 2005

Punishing the wrong party

In the public square in Philadelphia, in a country where freedom of speech is enshrined in the Bill of Rights in our Constitution, it appears that something very ancient and very wrong has occurred. It reminds me of the Book of Acts.

An odd thing kept happening to Paul. He would be preaching God's Word, such as in Philippi (Acts 16) or Jerusalem (Acts 21 and 22). The Word would infuriate those opposed to God. They would become riotous and intimidating, even physically violent with Paul. The Roman authorities would be called in. And what would they do? Would the authorities rescue and defend Paul, arresting the riotous individuals who were disturbing the peace and assaulting Paul?


They might extract Paul from the situation, but HE was the one arrested, flogged, punished, and imprisoned. The illegal acts of the mob were being done against Paul, yet the authorities charged HIM with the crimes. "Odd," we think. "What an unjust legal system they had back then!"

But it's not only "back then." If the facts and video we're getting from Philadelphia are at all correct, it appears that Christians are again being prosecuted when they are the victims of lawlessness, rather than the perpetrators. (See several accounts and video linked to an article on the WorldNetDaily website.)

Here's what happened: Homosexual groups hold a public "Outfest" in Philadelphia. A Christian group decides to witness at the festival, using signs and public preaching. It is probably not the most diplomatic or even effective move on the part of these Christians, but it ought to be their right. In the open marketplace of ideas on a public street, two very different ideologies should be able to be presented.

But the Christian voice is not treated equally. First, they are accosted by "Pink Angels," kind of like Storm Troopers for the gay movement, who encircle the Christians with blocking pink panels, shout obscenities and blow whistles to drown out their witness, impede their free movement, and generally harass the Christians in an aggressive manner.

Next the police show up, but what do they do? Do they referee, so that each side is allowed to have its say in a reasonable manner? Do they cause the Pink Angels to stand down and behave themselves? No. The police ignore the harassing Pink Angels and concentrate on forcing the Christians to leave the area. Eventually the Christians, set upon and harassed by the mob yet unwilling to forfeit their right of free speech, are arrested by the police, while the mob cheers.

Now, out of that Christian group, four adults and a 17-year-old young woman face trial for a number of felony and misdemeanor charges, which could land them in jail for up to 47 years. And the Pink Angels, the mob that was the aggressor in denying free speech to the Christians? They are celebrating their victory, thanks to the Philadelphia police.

In Philippi and Jerusalem, with the Roman authorities, and in Philadelphia, with its police authorities, the Christians remain the fall guys.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Jim:

I agree with you completely on your thoughts about the harassment of Christians by the gays. Although I'm gay and would agree in principle with the beliefs held by those gays at Philly, I don't agree with the manner in which they expressed their cause. Christian principles do come first. You believe this as well as others in your forum and those of us who are gay and Christian do as well.

I somehow expect you don't approve of that infamous group "God Hates Fags" even though you might find some common ground on some of the issues. The same applies here I think.

The important thing to remember is we are all of the body of Christ and that is the important focus.

Earl Apel
Member, Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church
Cincinnati, Ohio

9:59 PM, January 11, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Jim:

I am glad you are getting religion on the free speech issue. I am sure that you will want to go back and review the past year's presidential campaign and that you will be shortly decrying all of the abridgement of free speech that took place then, such as the arrest of people who simply showed up at Bush rallies wearing Kerry t-shirts and so on.

Outfest had a permit to be holding its gathering. The protesters showed up using a bullhorn in the midst of the area that Outfest was already using by permit. They clearly wanted a confrontation and publicity, as the main protester is miked in order to pick up his every word for the camera crew that is following him around while he incites the crowd. Having done this, the police asked the protesters to simply move to the edge of the space that contained Outfest. You can also plainly hear the offical on the videotape saying that these protesters were blocking the vendors from doing business, for which the vendors had paid money to have the right to do. When the protesters refused to move, after being directed multiple times by the police, and then sat down, they were arrested.

Freedom of speech is not an absolute right: some things cannot be said in certain times or ways. Using a bullhorn at someone else's get-together has never been considered a constitutionally protected manner of free speech, nor should it be. For example, if a gay group had shown up with a bullhorn inside of a stadium where Billy Graham was preaching a crusade and disrupted his service, would you be defending their rights to free speech? Somehow I don't think you would. So why are you defending these people? Just because they share the same opinion of homsexuals that you do? They could have stood at the edge of Outfest and said exactly the same thing without getting arrested--but then they would not be celebrities as they are now.

I am all for protest, but does the right to protest mean the right to disrupt things such that the intent of the original proceedings is thwarted? That isn't protest, that's civil disobedience, and people who practice civil disobedience should not be whiners. I think the protesters were obligated to move to the area to which they were directed by the police (which was only the edge of the Outfest area, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer) or face the consequences, just like I think that protesters at a Billy Graham event should be allowed outside the stadium but not be allowed to stand up with a bullhorn and scream at him while he's giving an altar call.


Timothy F. Simpson
Editor, Political Theology
Member, Presbytery of St. Augustine

11:30 AM, January 12, 2005  
Blogger geoffrobinson said...

They held the event on the street, which creates all the fuzziness. They didn't rent a stadium or a ballroom.

Regardless, the DA went overboard with the charges. At maximum, they should be facing misdemeanors.

10:04 AM, January 26, 2005  

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