Charges Against Couple Handcuffed for Distributing ‘End the Fed’ Flyers Near Liberty Bell Dropped

LB arrestsPHILADELPHIA — Federal charges have been dropped against a couple that was handcuffed on the public sidewalk this week while distributing flyers near the Liberty Bell.

A YouTube video has gone viral showing Mark and Barbara Passio surrounded by park rangers and sitting on the ground with their hands behind their back after they were detained for distributing information without a permit. According to the footage, the flyers that the Passio’s distributed pertained to their cause of ending the federal reserve, and were confiscated by police as evidence of violating federal law.

“We were peacefully engaging people with information!” Mark shouts. “We wish to go on our way peacefully. We have harmed no other living being!”

A crowd began to form as time passed and as the couple became vocal in protesting their arrest, which rangers state was only detainment.

The individual filming then begins to speak with Barb about the situation, who explains that she was told she needed a permit to distribute flyers.

“When he said to stop, we stopped, but that wasn’t good enough,” she states. “We said we wanted to leave and get off the property, but it was not good enough.”

The video, which continues for nearly 13-minutes, shows rangers completing paperwork over the matter, while bystanders begin to express their disapproval.

“What are you teaching the kids? I don’t understand this,” one woman states, standing next to her son. “My children’s great grandfather was a signer of the Declaration of Independence — Robert Treat Paine!”

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“We just came to look at [the historical landmark], and this is how we treat people who have a different freedom of speech?” she asks.

The Passio’s then approach minutes later after being freed, advising that they have been issued citations charging them with “failure to obtain a permit” and “interfering with agency function.”

As outrage began to stir over the matter, Christian News Network contacted Independence National Historical Park to learn what had become of the matter, and was told that the charges had been dropped. Public Affairs Officer Jane Cowley advised that letters had been mailed to the couple, which are believed to express regret for the incident.

“The Code of Federal Regulations is very clear that small groups under 25 may distribute printed matter without a permit,” she explained, pointing to 36 CFR 2.52.

She noted however, that groups over 25 must obtain prior permission, and that “commercial advertising cannot be [conducted on the property].”

When asked about how the incident may send shockwaves of fear to Americans over possible criminal charges for engaging in free speech activity, Cowley said that the citizens need not be afraid.

“Independence National Historical Park has a long tradition of being a location for civil unrest from the founding of our nation,” she said. “We respect those freedoms and we will do our best to ensure that those freedoms are protected.”

Ranger Alan Sapertstein arrests Michael Marcavage as he preaches the Gospel.
Ranger Alan Saperstein arrests Michael Marcavage as he preaches the Gospel.

A similar incident took place in 2007, when Repent America Director Michael Marcavage was arrested for refusing to move to another location when rangers took issue with his message about abortion, which they state disturbed visitors. As previously reported, as Marcavage stood adjacent to the public sidewalk and preached to those waiting in line to see the Liberty Bell, he was approached by Ranger Alan Saperstein, who attempted to relocate him to a “free speech zone” by giving him a “verbal permit.”

“We don’t want the verbal permit,” Marcavage responded as he stood on the sidewalk near the curb. “We don’t believe we need a permit because we are protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

“I’m telling you right now, we’d like you to set up over there,” Saperstein responded, pointing to the other side of the building where no members of the public were present.

When Marcavage refused to move his evangelistic preaching and message in opposition of abortion away from the people he was speaking to, he was arrested and charged with “Violating the Terms of a Permit.”

Six months later, Marcavage was issued a citation by certified mail, accusing him of “Interfering with Agency Function.” After a lengthy two-day trial, Marcavage was found guilty and escorted by U.S. Marshals to be booked and processed. He was fined $445, sentenced to a year of federal probation and prohibited from engaging in free speech activities near the Liberty Bell without first obtaining a permit, and even then, only in the “free speech zone.”

The ruling was appealed and upheld the following year, but when the case reached the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, it was overturned unanimously by a three-judge panel. In U.S. v. Marcavage, the court declared in a 52-page decision that “the government impermissibly infringed Marcavage’s First Amendment right to free speech” because Saperstein and other rangers unlawfully attempted to move Marcavage due to the content of his speech.

“Having been presented with Marcavage’s First Amendment challenge, the government shouldered the burden of establishing that its regulation of his speech was constitutional,” the panel wrote. “But the government was too sure of its position. …. [They] glossed over Marcavage’s belief that the restrictions on his speech were content-based.”

Both criminal charges were subsequently vacated.

While individuals have been arrested for engaging in free speech at the park, as previously reported, rangers refused to take action against illegal pot smoking on the premises. However, last month, reports state that police and rangers made several arrests during a pot-smoking rally, which had been granted a permit by the park.

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