Pro-life pastor awarded damages for unlawful arrest at Mississippi protest

by Joni B. Hannigan |

(Packet-Media.com)Columbia (Miss.) Police Department Cpt. Fred Shelton places Pastor Stephen Joiner under arrest in 2011 for disobeying a police officer as prolife Mississippi members sing around them.

COLUMBUS, Miss. (Christian Examiner) -- A Mississippi pastor was awarded damages yesterday for his unlawful arrest during a pro-life demonstration where he held a right-to-life sign supporting unborn children.

Columbus Police Department Capt. Frederick Shelton arrested Stephen Joiner, citing the city's parade ordinance requiring "groups" of even one individual to obtain a parade permit prior to engaging in speech on a public sidewalk.

Joiner, pastor of the city's Church of the Nazarene, was awarded $10,000 in damages after he was handcuffed so tightly his "wrist bled," according to the lawsuit, and he was denied food, water, and the use of a bathroom – even after informing his jailers he suffered from diabetes -- according to LifeSite News.

The judgment came after a four-year battle in state and federal courts against the City of Columbus, according Liberty Counsel, which claims a "solid victory" for the pastor.

The pastor had stopped to join 30-40 people near an intersection who were taking part in The Personhood Tour, a two-week tour of Mississippi designed to drive support for the state's pro-life Personhood Amendment. The lawsuit states, according to a news report, that "he was not physically obstructing traffic or intentionally interfering with the movement of ... traffic."

Shelton arrested Joiner for "failure to obey a police office," the lawsuit reads. A police spokesperson at the time said "public safety" was the issue, not abortion.

Mat Staver, Liberty Counsel founder and chairman, noted it is "repugnant to the Constitution" that anyone "need to seek permission and a permit from the government before they can open their mouths on a public sidewalk."

Liberty Counsel, which represented Joiner in the lawsuit, said not only is the pastor awarded damages, but the civil suit judgment directs the city to amend the two ordinances that led to Joiner's arrest, and to pay for his attorney fees.

"We are proud to see pastors like Pastor Joiner stand up to defend the rights of their flock to speak out in the public arena," Staver said.

Litigation counsel for Liberty Counsel, Daniel J. Schmid, said the decision also represents victory for "free speech" in Mississippi.

"Pastor Joiner's boldness in his stand for life is encouraging, and it is a privilege to be able to stand alongside pastors and fellow believers in defense of their right to stand for the most vulnerable among us," Schmid said.

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