A pastor who was arrested while observing protests for a library’s Drag Queen Story Hour won in court Thursday when a judge dismissed the charge, ruling the pastor was not threatening or jeopardizing anyone at the event.
The case began when Pastor Afshin Yaghtin went to a public library in Spokane, Wash., Father’s Day weekend to observe Drag Queen Story Hour. Police had set up locations for protesters and counter-protesters on opposing sides of the street, but Yaghtin – not speaking or carrying a sign – stood on a strip of grass in the library parking lot. Although Yaghtin opposed the Story House, he was not protesting.
When Yaghtin refused to join either group, he was arrested for obstructing a law enforcement officer.
Judge Tracy A. Stabb ruled Thursday that the police’s orders were not “narrowly tailored” to protect constitutionally protected speech.
“While the City’s interest in protecting public safety is significant, there is no evidence that Mr. Yaghtin’s mere presence on public property was in any way jeopardizing the City’s interest,” Stabb wrote. “Mr. Yaghtin had every right to be standing on public property. He was not blocking traffic and was not conveying any kind of message that might incite a response. He was not being disorderly, disruptive, or aggressive.”
Further, “the grass strip where Mr. Yaghtin was standing was not closed to the public in general,” she wrote.
“Instead, it was apparently closed to persons who manifested a certain belief regardless of whether that belief was being conveyed to the public,” Stabb wrote.
The Pacific Justice Institute, which represented Yaghtin, had argued the police’s order violated his First Amendment Rights. Specifically, the Institute said he was arrested “for questioning the police’s favorable treatment of supporters and unfavorable treatment of anyone they perceived to be non-supportive and for refusing to move.”
“The judge’s ruling is an enormous victory for the freedom of conscience,” said attorney Jorge Ramos of the Pacific Justice Institute. “The prosecution refused to acknowledge law enforcement’s overreach by separating and even barring people from entry into the library based on their views. We are thankful justice prevailed and Pastor Yaghtin can continue to shepherd his community with confidence.”
Michael Foust is a freelance writer. Visit his blog, MichaelFoust.com.
Photo courtesy: Unsplash/Ben White
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, The Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.