Sunday, May 28, 2006

Court Refuses To Dismiss Conspiracy Claims By Anti-Gay Christian Group

In Startzell v. City of Philadelphia, (ED Pa., May 26, 2006), a Pennsylvania federal district court denied a motion to dismiss conspiracy claims in a federal civil rights suit brought by members of Repent America, a Christian evangelical group, against Philly Pride, the organizers of OutFest, a festival designed to celebrate participants' homosexuality. The court found that plaintiffs (who have become known as the "Philadelphia Eleven") adequately alleged claims under 42 USC 1985(3), the federal statute that prohibits conspiracy to deprive any person of equal protection of the laws, as well as claims of conspiracy in violation of 42 USC 1983.

The Philadelphia Eleven claimed that Philly Pride conspired with the city of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia police to prevent them from speaking and carrying signs opposing homosexuality. (Full text of complaint.) Their Christian message was blocked by a private security force known as the Pink Angels who blocked plaintiffs' access to OutFest, shouted so their message could not be heard, and held up pink Styrofoam boards to prevent others from seeing plaintiffs' signs.

In upholding the claim under 42 USC 1985(3), the court found plaintiffs had sufficiently alleged that Philly Pride held a discriminatory animus against them as Christians, and not just against their anti-homosexual viewpoints. The court also held that religious groups are a protected class under Section 1985(3) so that discrimination against them can be labeled "invidious". Repent America has issued a press release welcoming the decision, and WorldNetDaily reports on it, pointing out that further proceedings will be necessary for the court to deterine if the alleged conspiracy in fact existed.