Mississippi Pastor Who Was Jailed Over Pro-Life Outreach Prevails in Lawsuit Against City

JoinerCOLUMBUS, Miss. — A pastor in Mississippi who was arrested and jailed four years ago while participating in a pro-life outreach on the public thoroughfare has prevailed in his lawsuit against city officials almost two years after being exonerated of criminal charges for his activities.

As previously reported, 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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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 declared guilty, an appeals court overturned the conviction in June 2013.

With the help of the Christian legal group Liberty Counsel, Joiner sued Mississippi officials in May 2014 for his arrest, and on Monday, Joiner was awarded over $10,000 in damages in court for the incident. The City of Columbus must also pay all attorneys fees surrounding the litigation, and must amend the two ordinances used against the pastor so as to prevent further misuse.

“The notion that one man can constitute a parade and that small groups of individuals need to seek permission and a permit from the government before they can open their mouths on a public sidewalk is repugnant to the Constitution and undermines the foundation of this nation,” Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, said in a statement on Tuesday.

“This was a great victory for Pastor Joiner and for free speech in Mississippi,” added Litigation Counsel Daniel Schmid. “Pastor Joiner’s boldness in his stand for life is encouraging, and it is a privilege to be able to stand alongside pastors and fellow believers in defense of their right to stand for the most vulnerable among us.”

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  • FoJC_Forever

    The innocent blood cries out to God for Justice, and God’s Judgement is coming. While laws may enable people to protest against abortion, and this is good, it does not exonerate those who have murdered babies in their mother’s wombs. Those who embrace abortion embrace death. Those who support abortion, even though they’ve never had one, are also guolty of the innocent blood.

  • Peter Leh

    i thought the judges and this country were anti-chrisitan? how is the world did this pastor get his conviction overturned and, in addition, damages?

    oh.. equal protection. how about that? 🙂

    • Bryn Hales

      You know sir, God is in control of everything. We just need to call unto the Lord, then everything will be OVERTURNED just like what happened to that Pastor. Thank you and may God Bless YOU!!!

      • Peter Leh

        the pastor may have indeed called out unto the lord.

        he also demanded his rights as an american citizen and got justice 🙂

  • pastoredsmith

    Now, if only the rest of the country had some common sense to follow suit in this case. America has lost her heart for God and now has becoming more and more hostile to Christians who, in majority built this country and made it what it…..was.

  • Frank

    That cop was no Christian. That cop is completely defeated by Jesus. That cop needs to repent and get right with Jesus.

  • Brian Johnson

    Would not the better example be to stop at defending oneself? We are to “turn the other cheek”, “give our cloak also”, and “go with him the extra mile”. Pushing back in a counter-suit goes against almost everything Jesus said about mercy, grace, and love.