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Charges Against Anti-Gay Activists Dropped

Charges Against Anti-Gay Activists Dropped
By Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA (2/17/2005)--A judge dismissed all charges Thursday against four members of a conservative Christian group who were arrested last fall while picketing a street festival for gays.

After watching video footage of the event, Common Pleas Judge Pamela Dembe said that while the protesters' message that homosexuality is a sin clearly enraged the crowd, the bullhorn-wielding demonstrators did not incite violence.

"We are one of the very few countries that protect unpopular speech. And that means that Nazis can March in Skokie, Ill. ... That means that the Ku Klux Klan can march where they wish to," Dembe said. "We cannot stifle speech because we don't want to hear it, or we don't want to hear it now."

The demonstrators, affiliated with a group called Repent America, had faced a variety of charges, including riot, conspiracy and ethnic intimidation, Pennsylvania's version of a hate crime. Prosecutors had said the activists, led by Repent America founder Michael Marcavage, were trying to incite the crowd.

The arrests had split gay-rights advocates. Some had felt that charging the protesters with hate crimes was excessive.

"We're just thrilled that Judge Dembe again reminded us how valuable the First Amendment is," Marcavage said.

END

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