The storm following the arrest of Christian preacher, Damon Atkins, at a Pride rally in Reading, Pennsylvania, continues to rage. Despite the Berks County District Attorney’s Office withdrawing the disorderly conduct charges against Atkins, critics argue that the incident exposed the city’s heavy-handed silencing of dissenting speech during public events.
Atkins, who was preaching on a public sidewalk across from City Hall during Reading’s first-ever “Pride Rally,” was arrested for quoting the Bible and expressing Christian viewpoints on sexuality. His arrest, caught on video by Matthew Wear, prompted a barrage of complaints against the Reading Police Department.
According to Police Chief Richard Tornielli, the department’s Communication Center was inundated with hundreds of phone calls from citizens voicing their outrage over Atkins’ arrest. Tornielli suggested the influx of complaints created a potential risk, causing delays in police responses to incidents within the city.
The Reading Police Department, apparently impervious to the First Amendment implications, has taken a defensive stance. Tornielli justified the arrest, claiming Atkins was disruptive and was arrested due to his statements, according to a local news outlet.
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This event, while igniting a debate on free speech, has also highlighted a worrying trend. The swift arrest of Atkins, coupled with the subsequent dismissal of charges, signals a tactical victory for those seeking to silence dissenting speech. By stifling Atkins’ voice during the event, the police effectively sanitized the public space of any Christian rhetoric not in line with the event’s theme.
Adding to the controversy, Reading’s Mayor Eddie Moran defended the arrest, shockingly claiming that Atkins’ First Amendment rights did not extend to speaking publicly across the street from the Pride event. Moran’s statement is a blatant disregard for the principles of free speech, which does not discriminate based on location or event.
Moreover, both the Mayor’s office and the Reading Police Department have official liaisons to the LGBTQ community. According to the city’s website, Mayor Moran’s administration seeks to make Reading a more LGBTQ-friendly city, but at what cost? Should this pursuit infringe upon the rights of individuals to express differing viewpoints?
The Berks County District Attorney made a wise call in dropping all charges against Atkins, reinforcing the essence of free speech. However, the concerning sequence of events in Reading serves as a stark reminder of the continuous struggle for religious freedom and the right to voice dissenting opinions without the fear of retribution.
Atkins’ case, though marred by an unjust arrest, has sparked a necessary backlash against these anti-free speech tyrants and the right to publicly advocate for Biblical sexual ethics in the face of an increasingly secular society.