Ordinance Targeting Free Speech in Residential Zones Results in Arrests of Peaceful Christians

Jay Rogers ArrestWinter Park , Florida — A Florida ordinance that was passed with the intention of hindering pro-life Christians from picketing the homes of abortionists has resulted in the arrests of three Christians.

Jay Rogers of The Forerunner told Christian News Network that a number of Christians peacefully gathered on a four-lane highway in a residential area in Winter Park on Saturday to stand for life, and that he was present to record the effort as a videographer.

“Whatever is going on, I try to get involved and be there, and just observe and write about it and record it,” he stated.

Rogers and others have been approached by police in times past for conducting pro-life awareness campaigns in front of the homes of abortionists, but officers have not gone so far as to take any of the Christians into custody — until last weekend. The arrests are due to a picketing ordinance that passed last year due to the urging of Planned Parenthood of Orlando CEO Jenna Tosh.

Rogers says that the ordinance is vague and that police are not even sure how to enforce it.

“The first time [officers came out after the ordinance became law], the police got it completely wrong,” he explained. “They said that we couldn’t march in the buffer zone and we couldn’t stand outside the buffer zone, but we could only march outside the buffer zone. We had to keep moving.”

“Then, we went back again, and this time, they agreed we could march through the buffer zone, and we could stand outside the buffer zone, and we could have any kind of signs we wanted, but we just couldn’t stand in front of the house whether we had signs or not,” Rogers continued.

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As the ordinance is currently being challenged in an appeals court after a judge upheld the statute as being lawful and not placing a complete ban on free speech in residential zones, the Christians wanted to gain an understanding of their free speech rights under the law.

“Last Saturday, we were planning on getting a threat, but instead, they came up to us and said, ‘You’re under arrest — you and you,'” Rogers outlined. “They pointed to me, and Pat McEwen was holding a Bible. I was holding a video camera.”

Cheryl Bischoff, who was holding a sign that said “Celebrate Life,” was told to leave, but said that because she was with McEwen, she wanted to stay. Police subsequently took her into custody as well.

Rogers said that he spent nine hours in jail. However, the Lord blessed his time behind bars as he and the women witnessed to their fellow inmates.

“From the moment I walked in, people were asking me all kinds of questions about what I did. I didn’t even have to preach,” he said. “So, it was almost like the verse in the Bible where Jesus said, ‘Don’t think about what to say when you’re delivered up before kings and judges [as] the Holy Spirit will give you words to say.'”

Rogers also noted that McEwen led another woman to the Lord, and that the three were able to minister to their bail bondsman, who was struggling with difficult life circumstances.

None of the Christians have been officially charged at this point, and Rogers states that he is unsure of whether the city will seek to pursue the case.

“They don’t really have much of a case,” he said, noting that he never holds signs or otherwise “pickets” at the events. “But they might [charge us], and if they do, we have no idea what the outcome will be.”

The situation is one of the latest in a growing number of ordinances establishing buffer and bubble zones in order to protect  abortionists. Just this week, government officials in San Francisco approved a 25-foot expanded buffer zone around abortion facilities in the city in order to keep abortion-minded women free from “harassment.” Cities in New York, Illinois and Massachusetts have similar laws, and abortion supporters have been pushing for bubble and buffer zones in other states, such as Maine and Georgia.

“In short, I was merely videotaping an event to record the statements of the police to see if they could clarify what appears to be an unconstitutional ordinance. I was not picketing under the definitions stated in the ordinance,” Roger stated. “In my view, each of us three was arrested even though all of us were obeying the ordinance. I believe that it was our right to do so under the First Amendment and that it was necessary to video record the challenge.”

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