On October 10, 11 antigay activists affiliated with Repent America, a pro-exgay religious group, were arrested for disrupting a gay-pride festival in Philadelphia. AgapePress and religious-right legal outfits accuse the city of Philadelphia of "continually denying [antigay group leader Michael Marcavage] his constitutional rights to free speech and free exercise of religion."
AgapePress declines to tell its readers the actual language of Repent America’s propaganda and signs, instead describing the materials vaguely as "biblical messages and gospel literature."
AgapePress describes the Philadelphia gay-pride festival’s security force, the Pink Angels, as "a militant group … whose main objective is to silence outspoken Christians." But according to the Philadelphia Gay News, festival organizer Chuck Volz recruited the security force to nonviolently carry large signs alongside the protesters to block their access to OutFest participants.
"We’ll have a moving pink wall around them [protesters]," Volz continued. "Hopefully, they [protesters] will be so frustrated, they won’t come again. Talking to a piece of Styrofoam is not the same as talking to a crowd of people."
The festival was held on public property, raising the matter of protesters’ free-speech rights on public property. Festival attorney Dan Anders was blunt about this: "Our position is that they [protesters] are not welcome to attend, they haven’t been invited to attend, and we would rather that they protest the event from outside the permitted area," Anders told PGN.
AgapePress calls the Pink Angels’ intercession "unlawful."
Whatever the case, the police escorted the antigay protesters past the blockade, apparently prompting the protesters to become more disruptive.
The police arrested them and charged them with "criminal conspiracy, possession of instruments of crime, reckless endangerment, ethnic intimidation, riot, failure to disperse, disorderly conduct, and obstructing highways." AgapePress asserts that the protesters were innocent and peaceful, but declines to air the police and event organizers’ accounts of what transpired. Further details will emerge over the next week or two.
This was not the first time that Repent America used public events to outshout the voices of others.
In early August 2004, Repent America was kicked out of a Philadelphia Phillies game.
The group had raised an exgay banner at the game that labeled gay Phillies fans as sinners and insinuated that Phillies spectators were going to hell unless they became "free" in Christ. The end of the AgapePress article indicates that the group didn’t merely oppose "Gay Community Day" at the ballpark; Repent America wants ballparks to deny any gay couple the right to express "public acts of homosexuality," such as hand-holding or kissing.
On July 21, Marcavage commandeered a Lansdowne, Pa., borough council meeting. He disrupted a public-comment session with off-topic Biblical remarks about homosexuals, including comments about gay Councilman Kevin Lee, and refused to relinquish the microphone. According to The News of Delaware County (Sept. 29):
"I went to him and appealed to him," [Police Chief Daniel] Kortan testified. "You had the microphone long enough. It’s time to sit down and enjoy the meeting like the rest of the people or leave. He refused. They (council) asked him to go back on target with a question for council instead of just reading," Kortan testified.
The council president adjourned the meeting and council members and various members of the audience filed into the hallway area. "I told him, ‘now you’re leaving.’ He asked, ‘are you arresting me?’ I said, ‘not yet, but you’re getting close.’ He said, ‘I must exercise my right of civil disobedience,” Kortan testified. He removed Marcavage using "the fireman’s carry," he testified.
Repent America is steadily establishing itself as an organization that demands its own voice be heard — not through respectful speech or public debate, but by shouting down other voices and commandeering public events.
Marcavage and company will be arraigned Oct. 18 for the gay-pride disruption and Oct. 28 for the Lansdowne borough council disruption. Among Marcavage’s supporters: this anti-Jewish white-supremacist Christian blogger.
Philadelphia City Paper, Oct. 14
Repent America favors theocratic Constitution Party over Bush, Jan. 11
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