April 2005 – A Philadelphia judge has dismissed all criminal charges against four Christians who had been arrested for ministering the Gospel at a homosexual celebration last October. Charges against a fifth Christian, a minor, were expected to be dropped as well.
Called the “Philly 4,” the Christians were originally part of a group of 11 believers who peacefully preached, sang songs, and held up signs at a “gay” pride event called OutFest. The event was open to the public, and the Christians were on public sidewalks when they were ministering.
All of the believers are members of the group Repent America, founded by businessman and evangelist Michael Marcavage. The group, based in Philadelphia, engages in evangelistic outreaches. “We have a passion to serve the Lord and are devoted to reaching the lost, so that they may be saved and come unto the knowledge of the truth,” said Repent America on its Web site (www.repentamerica.com).
Criminal charges against six of the 11 men and women were dropped earlier, but four men and a juvenile were bound over for trial on charges which included violating Pennsylvania’s hate crimes law. The five faced as much as 47 years in prison if they were convicted on all charges.
On February 17, however, Court of Common Pleas Judge Pamela Dembe quickly and summarily dismissed the charges on the grounds that prosecutors were unable to make even a minimal showing of any criminal conduct. Instead, she ruled that peaceful expressive activities are fully protected by the First Amendment and cannot form the basis of a criminal prosecution.
Brian Fahling, senior trial attorney for the AFA Center for Law and Policy (CLP), was gratified by the judge’s ruling. “We are pleased and relieved for our clients that justice has finally been done in the criminal system, and though it is apparently slow and rusty, the system still works,” he said. “However, the city clearly continued to prosecute the Christians with a vengeance during the hearing with bad faith arguments, further demonstrating that the charges represent nothing more than an abuse of power.”
The legal battles over the arrests at OutFest are not over, according to Fahling. He said that CLP attorneys plan to represent all 11 Christians in a federal lawsuit against the arresting officers and the city of Philadelphia. “The dismissal of criminal charges ends only the first chapter in the saga,” he said. “We are still calling for the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the corruption and profound abuse of power that we have seen in Philadelphia.”
According to Fahling, the prosecutor has indicated that the city may appeal the dismissal.
Marcavage is also embroiled in a legal dispute against Temple University in Philadelphia. He alleges that, in the fall of 1999, school officials had him involuntarily committed to a state mental hospital after he attempted to finalize plans for a Christian response to the on-campus performance of a blasphemous play. (See AFA Journal, January 2001.)
CLP attorneys have been representing Marcavage in the Temple case since its inception in 2000. The trial was scheduled to begin in early March.