Mike Stockwell of Cross Country Evangelism says that he was open-air preaching on the infamous South Street in Philadelphia late Friday, which is a popular downtown area known for its bars, Wiccan and New Age shops and sexually-oriented businesses.
Three other Christians accompanied Stockwell, including Joseph Toy, Jr. of Open Air Campaigners.
“We were having a great night lifting up Jesus on South Street, with many tracts going out and Mike Stockwell was declaring God’s word,” Toy said, who has been involved in public ministry since 1984.
He explained that the police were watching the men from the other side of the street, but took no issue with the preaching.
“It was going well,” he said. “We weren’t having problems with anyone.”
However, approximately 20 minutes into the outreach, after a cheesesteak restaurant owner complained about their presence, police confronted Stockwell and the others. Lieutenant Thomas McLean later explained to the men, “He came up to me and he’s like, ‘Can you get these guys out of here?'”
The ordeal was captured on video.
Stockwell, who was stationed across from a bar that was blaring music outside, lowered the volume on his small headset amplification device in order to comply with police requests, and continued speaking.
“It is by faith you are saved, not of yourselves. It is a gift,” Stockwell preached. “Cry out to God today that he would give you repentance to believe.”
However, as Stockwell spoke, a young female heckler bent to the ground, mockingly bowing down. Then, as she rose up, she asked Stockwell if he would like to see her breasts and exposed herself.
McLean, who was standing next to him, immediately grabbed into Stockwell to stop him from speaking.
“She’s showing herself, sir,” Stockwell advised with concern.
“Come on down, that’s it,” McLean said. “Disorderly conduct at this point.”
Stockwell said he thought at first that the officer was referring to the woman, but realized seconds later that McLean was talking about him.
Stockwell, shocked, exclaimed, “She did [it], sir!”
“A girl comes up and exposes her breast to him, I mean, that’s disorderly conduct,” McLean opined.
“You’re drawing a crowd, and that young lady exposing herself, that ended it. Once you cross that boundary of freedom of speech in drawing a malicious or out-of-order crowd, that’s when we have to stop it,” explained Officer Thomas Ohm.
“I thought it was ridiculous,” Stockwell told Christian News Network. “What was I doing that was disorderly?”
When those with Stockwell inquired from the police as to why the woman was not cited for disorderly conduct instead, the officer replied that her actions were not unlawful.
“It’s technically not a crime,” stated Officer Ohm. “Legally, women are allowed to walk around with no shirt on.”
“You’re done. You’re out of here,” the officers declared. “If you go to another corner and have anyone complaining about it, you will go to jail.”
The officers then advised that if Stockwell violated the order, the charge would be upgraded to a misdemeanor and he would spend at least a couple of hours in jail, if not the weekend.
“They just wanted us to leave,” Stockwell explained.
“The police had no interest in her,” Toy added. “They seemed to be wanting to get an excuse to get rid of us. … They didn’t want to defend our rights. They just didn’t want to deal with the situation.”
In mid-July, topless activist Moira Johnston was arrested in Philadelphia for strolling the streets without a blouse, but was released without being charged. A nude bicycle ride is also scheduled in the city for August 25th.
The issue is not isolated to Philadelphia, however, as toplessness is being permitted in many states across the country. Texas, Missouri, North Carolina, Colorado, Wisconsin, Ohio, Oregon, California, New York and many other states either have no laws on the books prohibiting the practice, or interpret current statutes very loosely. Topless advocates state that some of the cities most known for their tolerance of toplessness include Austin, Texas; Asheville, North Carolina; Boulder, Colorado; Eugene, Oregon; New York, New York and South Miami Beach, Florida.
The website Religious Tolerance advises, “[T]he ultimate decision whether to cite or arrest is left up the police officer. He/she might decide that a generic bylaw or state law banning disorderliness or creating a disturbance or lewd or lascivious behavior might apply to a topless woman.”
Two years ago, a number of women in various major cities engaged in a topless march through the streets, demanding equal rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to go shirtless just like men. The movement is known as “topless equality.”
“One grandmother brought her six-year old grandson to the protest, saying he needs to be exposed to life,” the local Fox affiliate reported on an event in Austin, Texas.
Similarly, marches took place in Denver, Colorado; San Francisco, California; Honolulu, Hawaii and eight other cites nationwide.
As previously reported, toplessness became a serious concern during the recent Bele Chere Festival in Ashville, North Carolina. At one point, a senior citizen attempted to cover a woman walking around topless, but several officers restrained her from covering the woman. Other police officers notified concerned Christians that the act is legal in the state. Stockwell was present in Asheville as well.
“I know I don’t want to see it,” Toy lamented. “You try to turn your head and try not to observe it. … I don’t know what it would be like to face that every day.”
“It’s disturbing to see this. I have three younger sisters; I have a niece [and I care about them],” Stockwell stated. “That bothers me that we’re going this way in America.”
Stockwell is set to appear in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court in the days ahead. He plans on fighting the charge and is currently seeking legal representation.