City confesses it violated pastor's rights

Wichita, USA - The city of Wichita, Kan., has confessed it violated the civil rights of a pastor who was arrested for being on a public city sidewalk at the time a homosexual event was going on nearby, and the subsequent lawsuit has been dismissed as part of a consent decree.

The case was brought by attorneys for the Alliance Defense Fund on behalf of Spirit One Christian Center Pastor Mark Holick.

It was dismissed in an order from U.S. District Judge Thomas Martin, whose ruling described the situation:

"Plaintiff was preparing to share his religious beliefs with others on the public sidewalk near the entrance of Heritage Park in Wichita, Kansas, where a Gay Pride event was about to take place … within 5 minutes of arriving at that location, Plaintiff was threatened with arrest if he did not leave, and then immediately arrested when he refused to leave, handcuffed, placed in a squad car in front of members from his church, including adults, youth, and children, processed at the police station by having his mug shot taken, fingers printed, and placed in a cell with others."

The judge noted that all charges against Holick later were dismissed, and the civil rights complaint was filed for the wrongful arrest.

"The defendants do not contest that they violated Plaintiff's constitutional rights," the judge wrote.

A video of the arrest was posted on YouTube and has been embedded here too:

"Christians shouldn't be penalized for expressing their beliefs," said Joel Oster, a senior legal counsel for the ADF. "We are pleased city of Wichita officials will now ensure that Pastor Holick is free to exercise his First Amendment rights in public without fear of arrest."

Holick's arrest came June 24, 2007, while he was peacefully expressing his faith on a public sidewalk with other members of his church.

Holick had notified police of the group's plans a week before the event but still was confronted by eight to 10 officers who informed him that he would be arrested if he did not leave the public sidewalk.

They accused him of trespassing and arrested him after he refused to move to a private parking lot across the street.

"The actions of the police were based solely on the perceived content of our Christian speech and beliefs," said Holick. "They arrested me before I even had a chance to speak."

The lawsuit followed early last year, and the consent order was released by the judge just days ago.

The court's ruling noted that the arrest "has already been expunged form the records of the City of Wichita Municipal Court, with a court finding that in the interest of the public welfare, the records will not be available to the public for any purpose."

"Defendant violated Plaintiff's constitutional rights to free speech, due process, and free exercise of religion by arresting him based on his religious speech in a traditional public forum," the judge said.

The city paid Holick $11,700 in damages "in accord with the city's ordinary accounting procedures," plus attorneys fees and litigation costs of $2,500.

When Holick informed the city of his plans to preach the gospel on the public sidewalks outside the homosexual festival, officers told him he could not go into the event. But when he arrived and positioned himself on the public sidewalk, officers ordered him to leave, then arrested him.

The officers had told him to go into a private parking lot across the street, which Holick declined to do.

City authorities dropped the charges as soon as they saw a video revealing the pastor conducting himself peacefully on the public sidewalk. But the ADF's request for a letter from the city assuring Holick that he would not face similar harassment in the future was ignored, so the ADF sued.

WND has reported on a series of such cases in which Christians are arrested for praying at a homosexual festival or for nothing more than having a protest sign that is "wider than their torso."

In Elmira, N.Y., police arrested seven Christians who went into a public park where a "gay" fest was beginning and started to pray, faces down, while holding their Bibles.

They were cited for "disturbing the peace," and Assistant Police Chief Mike Robertson told WND the seven are accused of a "combination" of allegations under that statute, which includes the "intent" to cause a public inconvenience, any "disturbance" of a meeting of persons, obstructing vehicular or pedestrian traffic or taking part in "any act that serves no legitimate purpose."

Another case developed when police in St. Petersburg, Fla., arrested five Christians for carrying signs "wider than their torsos" outside an officially designated protest area at that city's homosexual festival.

St. Petersburg officials, following disturbances at a previous homosexual pride festival, implemented rules governing outdoor events that set aside "free speech zones" where protesters are allowed.

Holick's church earlier was targeted by the Internal Revenue Service for moral statements he posted on the church's sign.