(The Center Square) — After the arrest of a preacher protesting across the street from a Pride Month rally in Pennsylvania went viral, area lawmakers had little to say.
The Center Square reached out to Sen. Judy Schwank and Rep. Manny Guzman, both Democrats who represent state legislative districts that include the city of Reading where the arrest happened June 3. The permitted flag-raising ceremony at City Hall was part of Reading’s first Pride March and Rally held on Saturday.
In a video shared on YouTube, Damon Atkins holds a sign that reads “Jesus said go and sin no more” while quoting Bible verses from a sidewalk across the street. Law enforcement warned him against disrupting the event, saying “let them have their day” and “respect it.”
Atkins refuses the directive and can be heard telling Sgt. Bradley McClure he’s on “public property” before continuing to preach. McClure then handcuffs Atkins and charges him with disorderly conduct for “yelling derogatory comments to people at the event,” according to a probable cause affidavit.
The Berks County District Attorney’s Office dismissed the charge on Wednesday after viewing the footage.
READ MORE — Paul Davis: Mob rule — curbing unruly teenage crowds
Adam Steinbaugh, an attorney for the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, told The Center Square on Thursday he’s “relieved” by the latest development.
“But Damon should never have been in handcuffs in the first place and the city needs to take measures to correct its officers’ misconduct and ensure that its officers will not violate the First Amendment in the future,” he said.
Steinbaugh said the event shows “a department out of touch with the First Amendment.” He also lamented McClure’s assertion that Atkins’s “volume” incited public inconvenience, therefore meeting the charge’s definition of “unreasonable noise.”
“Speaking loud enough to be heard by a noisy crowd isn’t unreasonable,” he said. “Police weren’t focused on avoiding noise — they were focused on preventing speech the Pride participants might find offensive.”
The Center Square attempted to reach both Schwank and Guzman on Wednesday but had not received any responses by the time of publication.
This piece was originally published in The Center Square. Read the original article here.
Christen joins The Center Square as its Pennsylvania News Editor and brings with her more than a decade of experience covering state and national policy issues from all angles. She’s a Pennsylvania State University alumna and has been published in the The Washington Examiner, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, RealClear and Broad + Liberty, among others.