FORT WORTH, Texas — The highest criminal court in Texas has ruled that it is permissible for police to form human barricades to physically block dissenters from engaging with attendees of “gay pride” events in situations where there is a possibility that the hearers might become violent.
On Wednesday, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reinstated the conviction of a preacher and a member of his congregation who had been previously found not guilty of “interfering with public duties” for crossing a barricade that was meant to separate them from attendees of a homosexual festival in Fort Worth.
“We agree with the sentiment expressed by the trial court judge — that [the men] literally crossed the line, from engaging in purportedly protected speech to physically interfering with a lawful police order,” a divided court ruled.
As previously reported, Joey Faust and other members of Kingdom Baptist Church in Venus, Texas, were physically blocked by police in October 2012 while attempting to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with attendees of the Fort Worth “Ride the Rainbow” pride parade.
Faust states that as he and others were preaching and distributing tracts to those in the parade, suddenly, the police formed a human blockade across the public walkway.
“The police lined up [across the street] and said, ‘You can go no further,” he told Christian News Network. “We were forbidden to cross the street and they wouldn’t tell us if we were being detained.”
Faust said that as he stood for some time watching others being allowed to pass by the human blockade, except for anyone that was present to witness to attendees, it became obvious that the police had an agenda.
“Christians who were in support of homosexuals were allowed to cross the street,” he stated. “A Christian walked by me right in front of the officers, and said, ‘I’m here with my family and some of them are homosexuals.’”
Faust then asked police why they were specifically restricting those that oppose homosexuality.
“I asked, ‘Why are they allowed to pass?’” he said. “They were just quiet.”
“At that point, I took a step and attempted to cross,” Faust outlined. “Once I stepped into the street, [the officer] put my hands behind my back.”
Faust and a second member of his congregation, Ramon Marroquin, were then charged with “interfering with public duties,” a class B misdemeanor. He was jailed for 20 hours and held on $1,500 bail.
In May 2013, a judge found both Faust and Marroquin guilty of the charge and sentenced them to two days jail time and a $250 fine, plus court costs. Since the men had already spent time in jail following their arrest, the sentence was pronounced as time served.
Faust and Marroquin then appealed the sentence, and last June, the Second District of Texas Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s ruling, finding the men not guilty and concluding that their First Amendment rights had been violated.
“The skirmish line prohibited all members of the church from exercising their right of free speech merely because of their association with the church,” the court concluded. “This is far too broad a limitation.”
But the ruling was again appealed and on Wednesday, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that police acted lawfully in forming a human barricade as it opined that the officers were promoting safety rather than interfering with religious speech. It pointed to claims from police officers that Faust and Marroquin’s group had used abusive and inflammatory speech in the past that incited attendees to anger.
“Although it was a governmental restriction on protected speech, the skirmish line was reasonable because it was justified without reference to the content of the regulated speech, it was narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest, and it left open ample alternative channels for communication of appellants’ views,” the court concluded.
Two judges dissented, including presiding judge Sharon Keller, who opined that “[t]he fixed skirmish line … burdened more speech than necessary to achieve the interest of preventing violence.”
“The only specific statements recited in the record as being made by either Faust or Marroquin at the parade before the imposition of the skirmish line that were inflammatory with respect to members of the parade were signs that suggested that homosexuals would go to Hell or burn in Hell,” she wrote. “But religions and religious groups often make claims about Hell and what may cause someone to end up there. These signs communicated a religious viewpoint, and do not themselves convey fighting words.”