(CNSNews.com) - Four people who were arrested during a confrontation at an annual homosexual pride event in Philadelphia could spend up to 47 years in prison for public reading of Scripture, an attorney for a pro-family organization said on Thursday.
Brian Fahling, senior trial attorney for the American Family Association (AFA) Center for Law and Policy, is representing the group in court. He claims the Christian activists are being persecuted simply for exercising their constitutional rights.
"They were exercising their First Amendment rights in a public forum, and we have videotape that demonstrates that," Fahling said.
The case began on Oct. 10, when Repent America Director Michael Marcavage and 10 other persons preached and read verses from the Bible during an annual "gay pride" event known as "Outfest" in Philadelphia.
Fahling said that a video of the confrontation showed Marcavage speaking through a bullhorn while he and his supporters were "being shouted down by irate gay activists."
However, city officials told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the video did not show the start of the confrontation, when they said Marcavage tried to interrupt an onstage performance with his preaching and then disobeyed a police order to move to the perimeter of the "block party" to avoid the potential for violence.
"They were not prohibited from preaching," said Karen Brancheau, a lawyer for the district attorney's office. "A reasonable request was made to prevent a situation from becoming dangerous to their own safety, as well as the safety of the participants."
Charges were later dropped against seven people in the "Philadelphia 11" because they were not seen quoting Scripture on a videotape of the incident.
However, the remaining four individuals have been ordered to stand trial on three felony counts -- criminal conspiracy, ethnic intimidation and riot -- and five misdemeanor charges. If convicted, Fahling said, they could face up to 47 years in prison.
Charles Ehrlich, the city prosecutor in the case, has called the Christian protestors "hateful" and referred to preaching the Bible as using "fighting words."
Philadelphia Municipal Court Judge William Austin Meehan has banned the protestors from doing any type of evangelism within 100 yards of any "gay and lesbian event."
This past week, U.S. District Judge Petrese B. Tucker denied emergency relief from prosecution despite video footage Fahling calls "undisputed evidence" that the group cooperated with police and were continually harassed by members of a homosexual organization called the Pink Angels.
Then on Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit turned down a similar appeal.
Since the federal courts did not intervene, the last route for the group to avoid trial would be an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, Fahling said
"First, symbols of Christianity are removed from the public square; now, Christians are facing 47 years in prison because they preached the gospel in the public square. Stalin would be proud," Fahling concluded.
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