Fact Check

Preaching in Public Protest

Do 4 Christians in Philadelphia face a potential sentence of 57 years in prison for preaching in public?

Published Jan. 11, 2005


Claim:   Four Christians in Philadelphia face a potential sentence of 47 years in prison for preaching in public.

Status:   Was true, but is no longer the case.

Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 2005]


Philadelphia charges Christians with hate crimes, inciting a riot, and using a deadly weapon.

Bill O'Reilly reported on the situation on Fox News Channel.

Dear B.,

What we have been saying has now happened. You cannot quote what the Bible has to say about
homosexuality in public or you will be charged with a "hate crime." Philadelphia is only the beginning.
If we fail to take a stand here, this "crime" will soon be applied across America.

In the 27 years of this ministry, I have never witnessed a more outrageous miscarriage of justice than what is happening in Philadelphia. Four Christians are facing up to 47-years in prison and
$90,000 in fines for preaching the Gospel on a public sidewalk, a right fully protected by the First Amendment.

On October 10, 2004, the four Christians were arrested in Philadelphia. They are part of Repent America. Along with founder Michael Marcavage, members of Repent America — with police approval — were preaching near Outfest, a homosexual event, handing out Gospel literature and carrying banners with Biblical messages.

When they tried to speak, they were surrounded by a group of radical homosexual activists dubbed the
Pink Angels. A videotape of the incident shows the Pink Angels interfering with the Christians' movement on the street, holding up large pink symbols of angels to cover up the Christians' messages and blowing high pitched whistles to drown out their preaching.

Rather than arrest the homosexual activists and allow the Christians to exercise their First Amendment rights, the Philadelphia police arrested and jailed the Christians!

They were charged with eight crimes, including three felonies: possession of instruments of crime (a bullhorn), ethnic intimidation (saying that homosexuality is a sin), and inciting a riot (reading from the Bible some passages relating to homosexuality) despite the fact that no riot occurred.

You may think I am exaggerating. I'm not. Our AFA Center for Law and Policy is representing these four individuals at no cost. We will take this case all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary to get justice.

There is so much more about this case I don't have room for it in this letter. We have prepared a 25-minute VHS/DVD in which two AFA-CLP attorneys discuss the case in detail.

Please help us with our expenses in representing these committed Christians. With your tax-deductible gift of $15, less than the cost of a cup of coffee once a month for the next year, we will send your choice of either the VHS or DVD. Watch the VHS/DVD, then share it with your Sunday school class and church. This VHS/DVD should be required viewing in every church in America.

Click here to get your copy of the Philadelphia 4 Story.

Thanks for caring enough to get involved. We must not allow this travesty of justice to continue.



Origins:   On 10 October 2004, Philadelphia's OutFest National Coming Out Day Block Party was disrupted by a group of eleven Christians intent upon preaching the Gospel at the assembled crowd.


The evangelicals (now commonly referred to as the "Philadelphia 11") had, according to police, acted in a disorderly manner at this gay pride event, blocked a public street, and disobeyed police orders. Each of these protesters was removed from the scene (some in handcuffs) and consequently charged with the following misdemeanors: criminal conspiracy and disorderly conduct, failure to disperse under official order, obstructing the highway. Some were further charged with felonies.

In the autumn of 2004, charges were dismissed against seven of the original group, leaving four still to have their day in court. On 4 January 2005, those four protesters were arraigned on state (Pennsylvania) "hate crime" felony charges (which sentence-enhancement allegations, not additional charges) stemming from the incident. On 17 February 2005, all charges against these remaining four defendants were thrown out. Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Pamela Dembe said that the demonstrators simply had been exercising their First Amendment rights.
Calling the United States "one of the very few countries that protect unpopular speech," Dembe said that the Supreme Court has ruled that the antagonistic reaction of a crowd, even a possible riot, was not reason enough to arrest speakers in a public setting.

The e-mail quoted above (which was penned by Donald E. Wildmon, Founder and Chairman of the American Family Association) positions the incident as a "travesty of justice" perpetuated on Bible-loving Christians by those looking to pander to homosexuals. That sentiment is echoed by other evangelical groups who judge that the free-speech rights of gays and lesbians are being upheld at the expense of those of Christians.

"Pennsylvania Christians Face 47 Years in Prison for Reading the Bible in Public," the title most often accorded the e-mail, calls to mind mental images of God-fearing folk rounded up and thrown in jail for quietly partaking of a bit of Scripture as they munched on their noontime sandwiches in a public park before heading back to work. Yet that was not the case of it — the "crime" the eleven were arrested for had nothing to do with Bible reading but everything to do with being disruptive of the peaceable assembly of others to the point that it looked like they were attempting to incite a riot. The confrontation that took place between the Philadelphia 11 and those attending OutFest did not come about through the mechanism of two disparate groups accidentally finding themselves in the same place at the same time. OutFest is a large, well-organized event, heavily advertised in advance. Previous OutFests had attracted similar proselytizing, and Repent America (a Philadelphia-based organization that encourages Christians to go out into the streets to proclaim the word of God to sinners) was behind this particular group of believers' being dispatched to OutFest in 2004. The eleven were there not by chance and not through lack of design, but deliberately. They wanted to preach to the homosexuals, whom they regard as Hell-bound sinners.

Volunteer OutFest security workers (known as "Pink Angels") surrounded the evangelicals and used whistles to drown out their preaching. They held up pink styrofoam boards to block the protesters from view. The Philadelphia 11 claimed these acts violated their right of free speech and pointed to excerpts from film taken by Enough Said Productions (which had been there that day to shoot a documentary) as proof of their charges. Yet police had a videotape of their own which they said demonstrated the proselytizing Christians were disorderly and did indeed fail to obey the officers' orders.

Groups such as the American Family Association and Repent America regard homosexuals as sinners in dire need of salvation lest their lifestyle choices doom them to spending eternity sorrowing in a lake of fire. Judged from that understanding, their acts are compassionate in that by preaching to the Hell-bound, they are looking to spare their fellow man from untold horror. Yet even if their assessment of homosexuality as a sin is accurate, is heckling the right way to go about bringing at-risk souls to Jesus? Or does a good act performed evilly itself become evil? Others are clearly also pondering that question, as evidenced by these comments from veteran newsman Bill O'Reilly, who said the following during a January 2005 interview with Brian Fahling and Chuck Volz, lawyers representing both sides of the legal matters facing the remaining four defendants:

But I still — I'm still very troubled, Mr. Fahling, with all due respect. I don't know whether this kind of a confrontation serves Christianity by telling somebody they're going to go to hell, that they're an abomination.

We're all Americans here. You may disagree with their lifestyle, you may think it's sinful, but to go in and to confront somebody in that fashion seems to me to be overly aggressive and anti-Christian.

Barbara "what would Jesus have done?" Mikkelson

Last updated:   18 February 2005

  Sources Sources:

    Eichel, Larry.   "Trial of 'Philadelphia Four' is Dismissed."

    Philadelphia Inquirer.   18 February 2005.

    O'Reilly, Bill.   "Interview with Repent America Attorney Brian Fahling, Outfest Legal Adviser Chuck Volz."

    The O'Reilly Factor.   3 January 2005.

    Yanchunas, Dom.   "Our Freedoms Are Slipping."

    Lancaster New Era.   31 December 2004   (p. A1).

    U.S. Newswire.   "Justice Department Must Intervene on Behalf of Philadelphia Christians,
        Concerned Women for America Says."

    5 January 2005.

Article Tags