A divided appeals court Wednesday reinstated the convictions of a Baptist pastor and a church member who had a history of “hateful” speech and physical confrontations at gay-pride events in Fort Worth.
The Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that Pastor Joey Faust and Ramon Marroquin of the Kingdom Baptist Church were properly charged and convicted for interfering with police duties when they tried to cross a “skirmish line” of officers attempting to keep protesters from mingling with participants of the 2012 Fort Worth Pride parade.
The ruling by the state’s highest criminal court overturned the 2nd Court of Appeals, which tossed out the convictions last year, saying police had violated the free-speech rights of church members by detaining them based on the “history of violence induced by their abusive speech” while allowing non-members to pass through the skirmish line.
Rejecting that rationale, the Court of Criminal Appeals said police were clearly promoting safety, not stifling religious expression, by briefly halting protesters who had tried to closely follow the end of the parade as it passed by.
“The officers’ decision to prevent all members of the Kingdom Baptist Church from crossing the skirmish line was reasonable in light of the information they had received about previous instances of violent confrontations erupting between church members and gay pride parade supporters,” Judge Bert Richardson wrote for the majority.
“We agree with the sentiment expressed by the trial court judge — that (Faust and Marroquin) literally crossed the line, from engaging in purportedly protected speech to physically interfering with a lawful police order,” he wrote.
The ruling also reinstated the punishment of two days in the Tarrant County Jail and $286 fine given to Faust and Marroquin.
Richardson pointed to testimony from Fort Worth police officers who said they feared fights would erupt if protesters and parade-goers mixed, particularly after hearing protesters shout such provocative statements as, “I hope you and your children die in a fiery crash,” and, “You should just go ahead and kill yourself, you faggot.”
Similar statements led to confrontations, and at least one fight, the previous year, police said.
Presiding Judge Sharon Keller disagreed, saying in a dissenting opinion that police had acted improperly by stopping members of the Kingdom Baptist Church, and nobody else, because they believed the views being expressed were hateful and because a church member had assaulted a gay man during the previous year’s parade.
“This cannot be right. The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, even speech that is hateful,” Keller wrote.
In a separate dissent, Judge David Newell said he would have returned the case to the 2nd Court of Appeals because it was unclear whether the issues had been properly presented on appeal.
The Kingdom Baptist Church appears to be no longer operating in Venus, a small town south of Fort Worth, and Faust is now pastor of a church in Missouri, according to his website.