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Despite outrage over arrest of man who tried to quote Bible at Pride rally, city council members back police: 'There are parameters of decency and civility'
Image source: YouTube screenshot

Despite outrage over arrest of man who tried to quote Bible at Pride rally, city council members back police: 'There are parameters of decency and civility'

Members of the Reading, Pennsylvania, city council are backing their police department despite widespread outrage over the arrest of a man who tried to quote the Bible at a Pride rally outside City Hall earlier this month.

Image source: YouTube screenshot

What are the details?

Reading Chief of Police Richard Tornielli said during Monday's city council meeting that the police department has been under attack since the viral incident, WFMZ-TV reported.

"Our police department has been flooded with thousands and thousands of phone calls to the point that last Tuesday we saw 700 phone calls during the daytime hours," Tornielli said, according to the station.

He said nearly all of the calls are coming from outside the county and state, WFMZ noted.

"The thing that is troubling — beyond the fact that it potentially has impacted public safety — is that many of these calls are harassing," Tornielli added, according to the station. "The language involved in some of these phone calls is utterly disgusting."

He also said the calls have included "threats of violence to police officers and to their family members, including publishing personal information of police officers and their family members online," WFMZ reported.

What did council members have to say?

Council President Donna Reed said she's sorry for what Reading police have been putting up with, the station reported: "I believe in freedom of speech, but there are parameters of decency and civility. I am never quite sure how people think they are making a point when they are showing their bias or natures, as they think they're making a point."

Councilwoman Marcia Goodman-Hinnershitz added that she's "receiving personal text messages — things about my personal life that I was surprised people knew about. This goes beyond just what the initial rally was about, and they're widening their scope that we need to be prepared to look at what tools are available to us to take action," WFMZ added.

"I'm going to ask council president what we might want to do as the body to take action," Goodman-Hinnershitz also said, according to the station.

Reed replied, "I would like to think that everyone who has served or is serving or will ever serve on this body stands firmly behind our police department," WFMZ noted.

Councilman Chris Daubert concurred that "we certainly support our officers" and "we pride ourselves on being a diverse community in every possible way, and I know our police department supports that," the station said.

Daubert added that as police "support the diversity our community exhibits, we support your actions to help us live in a peaceful way and all of us celebrating our differences and enjoying the complements we can all bring to each other."

Mayor Eddie Moran said in a statement days before the city council meeting that freedom of speech doesn't apply in the case of Damon Atkins, the man who was arrested after beginning to quote the Bible at the June 3 rally.

Moran last week said the following to WFMZ:

First and foremost, I consider myself lucky to have been able to participate in the Reading Pride March and Rally. It truly was a wonderful event, and I look forward to continuing to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community throughout the month of June. With regard to the incident, the City respects the First Amendment rights of all individuals. However, freedom of speech does not include the right to disrupt an organized event and interfere with the rights of others.

What's the background?

Atkins' arrest was caught on video.

“This is public property," Atkins told the officer — identified by the Lancaster Patriot as Sgt. Bradley McClure — who agreed it is public property but still insisted that Atkins "let them have their event” and “respect it."

Atkins nevertheless began speaking, initially hollering, "You!" at people across the street and then uttering the words, "God is not —" before the officer interrupted with, "That's it! You're done!" and arrested Atkins. The Pride rally attendees applauded.

Moments later when a handcuffed Atkins continued trying to speak to the Pride rally attendees, the officer turned him around and walked him up against a building's outer wall.

Image source: YouTube screenshot

The Patriot said Atkins was charged with “disorderly conduct engage in fighting.”

Here's the clip of the arrest:

Christian arrested in Reading Pennsylvania at a Pride March.youtu.be

Just days later, the Berks County District Attorney's Office dropped the disorderly conduct charges against Atkins.

"After a review of the incident which took place on June 3, 2023, in the 800 block of Washington Street in the City of Reading, the District Attorney’s Office has withdrawn the charges of disorderly conduct filed against Damon Atkins," a Tuesday Facebook post from the Berks County District Attorney reads. "The charges were withdrawn after the District Attorney’s Office reviewed the videos of the incident along with applicable case law."

According to a subsequent story from the Lancaster Patriot, an email from Berks County Commissioner Christian Leinbach said, "From what I have seen thus far I believe this was an unlawful arrest and could open the City of Reading and their police department to legal action."

Adam Steinbaugh — an attorney for the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression — told Center Square that Atkins "should never have been in handcuffs in the first place, and the city needs to take measures to correct its officer’s misconduct and ensure that its officers will not violate the First Amendment in the future."

Steinbaugh added to Center Square that the incident shows “a department out of touch with the First Amendment.”

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Dave Urbanski

Dave Urbanski

Sr. Editor, News

Dave Urbanski is a senior editor for Blaze News.
@DaveVUrbanski →