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Lawsuit claims city violated 1st Amendment rights at TriPride Festival

David Floyd • Updated Jul 15, 2019 at 6:23 PM

Three plaintiffs have filed a lawsuit against Johnson City and seven city police officers, claiming that their First Amendment rights were violated during the TriPride Festival in September.

According a verified complaint submitted in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee in Greeneville, plaintiffs Jeremiah Waldrop, Arthur Fisher and Phillip Self were “peacefully sharing their Christian message” on a public sidewalk and park during the TriPride Festival on Sept. 15.

In the lawsuit, they claim officers with the Johnson City Police Department told them they could not preach in Founders Park, where the festival was held, could not bring their signs into the festival area and could not stand on the sidewalk outside the festival area. They claim that seven officers, two of which are identified in the lawsuit as “Lieutenant Peters” and “Sergeant Hodges,” threatened to arrest them. The other five officers were unnamed.

Founders Park was leased by the TriPride organization ahead of the event and protesters were given areas along parade route to demonstrate. Some later were along the fencing at Founders Park, and police instructed them to move back.

The plaintiffs say in the complaint that they “forfeited their constitutionally-protected activities” because they were afraid of being arrested and jailed.

The complaint says the plaintiffs sent a letter to the city in October “to avoid litigation and reach an amicable resolution of the issues” but says the city did not respond.

In a statement issued Monday afternoon, the city said it is aware of the lawsuit.

“The plaintiffs are individuals who were seeking to further their religious, political, and social beliefs,” the city said in the statement. “The City understands the constitution protects the rights of citizens who peacefully assemble, including those seeking to persuade others who may not share the same point of view. However, freedom of speech is subject to time, place and manner limitations.”

The statement said Johnson City is investigating the legal complaint and will not make further public comment until the investigation is complete.

Signs displayed by protesters at the Tri-Pride Festival included “Homosexuality is an Abomination,” “Fear God. This is the Eternal Gospel” and “Homosexuality is Demonic. Your Party Will End In Flames!”

The TriPrideTN Inc. board said in a statement it hopes for a quick resolution to the complaint filed against the city.

“TriPrideTN, Inc. is a nonprofit organization with a mission to build a stronger and more inclusive community across Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia,” the organization’s board said. “That has been the goal since day one. We celebrate the LGBTQ+ community and welcome allies, supportive nonprofit organizations, faith congregations and local businesses to become our community partner.”

Tri-Pride Lawsuit by David Floyd on Scribd

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