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Pro-LGBTQ mayor says freedom of speech doesn't apply to man arrested after trying to quote Bible at Pride rally
Image source: YouTube screenshot

Pro-LGBTQ mayor says freedom of speech doesn't apply to man arrested after trying to quote Bible at Pride rally

The mayor of Reading, Pennsylvania, said freedom of speech doesn't apply in the case of a man who was arrested in the city earlier this month after trying to quote the Bible to Pride-rally attendees.

Mayor Eddie Moran last Thursday issued the following statement to WFMZ-TV:

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?

Damon Atkins was arrested across the street from the Pride rally, which was held June 3 just outside Reading City Hall. Reading is about 90 minutes northwest of Philadelphia. The 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."

Image source: YouTube screenshot

Atkins 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.

Image source: YouTube screenshot

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

What else?

Interestingly, the mayor issued his statement that free speech doesn't apply in Atkins' case two days after 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."

Speaking of the police department, Reading's police chief — Richard Tornielli — told WFMZ that "since the arrest of Damon Atkins, the Reading Police Department Communications Center has been inundated with phone calls from individuals voicing complaints about the arrest."

Tornielli added to the station that "on Tuesday and Wednesday, our Communications Center fielded hundreds of calls on phone lines that are used for emergency and non-emergency requests for police assistance. These harassing phone calls have distracted our communication personnel from fielding calls related to incidents taking place in the City of Reading. This potentially creates a dangerous situation causing delays in police responses. Many of the phone calls received have included threats to police personnel and have contained inappropriate and vile language. The Reading Police Department and our partner law enforcement agencies are investigating the calls which have contained threatening language and will pursue charges where appropriate."

Local Democrats quiet

The Center Square reported that it reached out on Wednesday to Sen. Judy Schwank and Rep. Manny Guzman — Democrats who represent state legislative districts that include Reading — in regard to the incident. But the outlet — which covers statehouse and statewide news across America — said it didn't receive responses from either lawmaker by the time of publication Thursday.

'Out of touch with the First Amendment'

Adam Steinbaugh — an attorney for the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression — did speak to the Center Square, telling the outlet Thursday 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 the Center Square that the incident shows “a department out of touch with the First Amendment.”

He also slapped down the arresting officer's assertion that Atkins’ “volume” incited public inconvenience and met the charge’s definition of “unreasonable noise," the outlet noted.

“Speaking loud enough to be heard by a noisy crowd isn’t unreasonable,” Steinbaugh added to the Center Square. “Police weren’t focused on avoiding noise – they were focused on preventing speech the Pride participants might find offensive.”

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