Pastor Sues Mississippi City After Being Jailed Over Pro-Life Outreach

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACOLUMBUS, Miss. – A pastor in Mississippi has filed a lawsuit against city officials after he was arrested, jailed and ultimately exonerated over charges surrounding holding a pro-life sign on the public sidewalk.

According to reports, Pastor Stephen Joiner of Columbus Church of the Nazarene was traveling through the city in March 2011 when he saw members of the group Pro-Life Mississippi holding signs along a busy intersection. He parked his vehicle at a nearby pharmacy and walked over to the group to thank them for being a voice for the unborn.

As Joiner began to converse with members, he learned that they were promoting a proposed personhood amendment in the state, which seeks to declare that life begins at conception. Because he supported the cause, Joiner decided to join the group in holding signs at the location.

However, Joiner was soon approached by Columbus Police Captain Frederick Shelton, who ordered him to leave the area, asserting that the pastor was blocking traffic. Shelton likewise ordered the others to leave, stating that they were also interfering with traffic.

According to the lawsuit filed in court, Joiner respectfully disagreed with Shelton, contending that he believed he had a First Amendment right to stand on the public sidewalk. Shelton, in turn, cited Joiner for “failure to obey a police officer” and was arrested.

“See how this works? If we were out here protesting for gay rights, the police would be out here protecting us, not arresting us,” Joiner declared as he was being placed in handcuffs. “But they come out to arrest good Christian folks.”

“Sir, you are being arrested by a Christian and a chaplain,” Shelton replied.

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“Pastor Joiner was then handcuffed so tightly that his wrist bled from the handcuffs, taken into custody, shackled in leg restraints, and transported to the Lowndes County Jail,” the lawsuit, filed by Liberty Counsel on Wednesday, outlines. “There, he was denied food water, and even use of a bathroom, although he had explained to them that he was diabetic and had not eaten anything for some time and that he needed to use the restroom.”

After four hours, Joiner was released and stood trial later that year, where Shelton told the court that the pastor had violated the city’s Parade and Handbill Ordinance. Although he was initially found guilty, an appeals court overturned the conviction in June of last year.

Joiner’s lawsuit seeks to secure his freedom to engage in free speech activities in Columbus without the fear of future arrest, and requests a permanent injunction against the ordinances used to convict him.

“The First Amendment protects the right of citizens to express themselves on the public ways free of government interference,” Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, wrote in a statement about the civil challenge. “The city’s actions were entirely unjustified and are an affront to the fundamental rights of all Americans. Even unpopular speech is protected when peacefully expressed, as Pastor Joiner did here.”

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  • William S. Sutherland

    Another bully-with-a-badge claiming to be a Christian to justify his ungodly and unconstitutional actions. He obviously worships Ceasar and not the God of the Bible since he apparantly thinks Romans 13 teaches unquestioning obedience to every dictate by a so-called “public servant.”

    • Mr. Johnny5

      agreed sir, and it has become a sad situation when so called Christians won’t even support their brethren in righteousness. it is my opinion that this references the term taking the lords name in vain

  • Jacob Nimble

    “They shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up…into prisons…for my name’s sake.”

    “And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake.” (Jesus)

    “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings…”

    “If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye…” (Peter)

    “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer. Behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried… Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of Life.” (Jesus)

    Let us, then, set our minds on suffering for the sake of that Blessed Name which once was covered in ignominy for your sake and mine, and to be counted worthy to don an imperishable crown ere too long in yon glorious Kingdom.

    Brethren, commend yourselves to Him who fights for us, and brace yourselves.