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Date Created: 12/21/15
LAWCROSSING THE LARGEST COLLECTION OF LEGAL JOBS ON EARTH TM COURT REPORTER Free Speech on Staten Island By James Kilpatrick 18009731177 qquqvlaqvcrossinguconz The last time a First Amendment question arose in a federal court Staten Island was still part of New York City New York was part of the United States and the United States was governed by a Constitution that forbids the making of any law that violates its First Amendment How then you may ask can the borough of Staten Island get away with shutting up the Rev Kristopher Okwedy and his Keyword Ministries It seems a reasonable question The facts are not in dispute The Constitution forbids the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereofquot Seven years ago Okwedy rented two billboards on Staten Island from PNE Media On them he expressed this message Word on the Street four ways to say Leviticus 1822 Thou shall not lie with mankind as with womankind it is abominationquot King James You shall not lie with a male as with a female that will be loathsomequot James Moffat Do not lie with a man as with a woman it is detestablequot Berkley version Homosexuality is absolutely forbidden for it is an enormous sinquot Living Bible For the record The Scottish scholar was a two quottquot Moffatt and the other cited translation was the threequotequot Berkeley version but no matter In March 2000 Guy V Molinari as borough president of Staten Island gazed upon the billboards and found them displeasing They were unnecessarily confrontational and offensivequot They conveyed an atmosphere of intolerance which is not welcome in our boroughquot Molinari did not exactly demand that the billboards be papered over but he sought the billboard owners and on March 10 the offending quotations suddenly disappeared PAGE 1 In his appeal to the Supreme Court Pastor Okwedy charges that the billboard owner released his name to the media resulting in a frenzy of calls interviews and hate mailquot Someone sent Okwedy a suspicious package borough police at first refused to investigate but finally opened the package It contained explicit homosexual magazines The city of New York dispatched two detectives from its Bias Crimes Unit to interview the pastor He wasn39t home but they interviewed his wife for evidence of a possible hate crime The detectives made offensive comments about the Rev Okwedy39s national origin Nigeria and asked why he had rented the billboardsquot They appeared to have no interest in the threatening letters he had received Okwedy finally went into US District Court with a challenge to New York City39s Human Rights Law District Judge Nina Gershon ruled against him at every point Last August a panel of the US Court of Appeals forthe 2nd Circuit unanimously affirmed In an unsigned summary order the court ruled that the law does not purport to prohibit or suppress or regulate speech it merely authorizes action against prejudice intolerance bigotry discrimination and alasrelated Violence or harassment quot In the panel39s view Borough President Molinari39s purpose was not to suppress religious expression He was not seeking to threaten or intimidate He was merely expressing the government39s opinion When the government speaks it is not bound by principles of viewpoint neutrality and can make persuasive arguments for its own favored point of viewquot Nothing forbids government from criticizing speech it deems to be intolerant The city39s position strikes me as all very true but when government employs its huge power not merely to express its own view but to stifle a different view absolutely something is seriously wrong This is a case the high court ought to hear REPETITION FROM EARLY GRAF Changing the subject abruptly A number of readers responded strongly to a column I wrote on Jan 3 discussing a case from Kennewick Wash The case arose in 2003 when a zealous police officer Richard Dopke spied a man riding a small motorcycle The man was not wearing a helmet Sgt Dopke gave chase The suspect eluded him Backup officers arrived among them a trained dog handler with his faithful canine Deke Somehow Deke slipped his leash and seriously bit innocent neighbor Ken Rogers He sued The city pleaded qualified immunity The city lost in the ninth Circuit and lost again two weeks ago when the Supreme Court refused to hear its appeal Unless an outof court settlement can be reached Rogers39 suit will go to trial in April The moral to the story is that police dogs ought not to bite a hand that feeds a lawyer Letters to Mr Kilpatrick should be sent by e mail to kilpatiifdaolcom COPYRIGHT 2005 UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE This feature may not be reproduced or distributed electronically in print or otherwise without the written permission of uclick and Universal Press Syndicate
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