Pastor Donald Crosby said in the lawsuit filed Monday that the city of Warner Robins violated his First Amendment rights when he was arrested for protesting the red-horned mascot of the local high school. (LINK)
Georgia residents might remember the scuttlebutt over Pastor Crosby’s protest last year. You see, he’s concerned that demons are a big deal these days. Real demons, like the ones in The Exorcist. He takes demons quite seriously, and believes that Warner Robins High School ought to take them seriously, too.
Crosby and about 25 members of his congregation, God’s Kingdom Builders Church of Jesus Christ in Macon, gathered outside the high school on the first day of classes in 2010. Waving “Warner Robins Must Repent” signs, they urged the school to abandon the team’s name, which Crosby said was offensive to Christians.
Crosby was arrested after he was unable to present a permit to a police officer. Not long after his release, he obtained a permit, resumed his protest, and was promptly arrested again. In his lawsuit, he says that “he was shaken by the experience and forced to move out of the central Georgia town for fear of continued harassment.”
There are several aspects of this story that deserve public scrutiny. The first is a matter of principle — legal principle. Pastor Crosby is, by most accounts, a loony. He believes that magic invisible monsters grab hold of people’s insides and make them do nasty evil things. He thinks that the local high school is contributing to the eternal destruction of young people. He probably still believes that Michael Jackson’s Thriller video is a one way ticket to eternal torture. His beliefs are barking mad, and in America, he has a right to voice his views.
With the current focus on hundreds of “Occupiers” being arrested in multiple states, often on trumped up “permit violation” charges, we must be careful to extend the same sense of outrage to people in our communities whose points of view are not our own. Permit regulations have been tightened in many areas since the “uncomfortable” protests in the 60s and 70s, and it is often questionable whether they are designed to protect the public good or to make things easier on police who do not want to deal with protesters voicing unpopular ideas.
On the other hand, Pastor Crosby was arrested on school grounds. It is unclear from the press release whether or not his permit extended to public school property, but it appears that this was at least part of the rationale for his arrest. The state’s obligation to extend special protection to school children and teens has been repeatedly upheld, and seems in most cases to be a good idea. If it turns out to be an issue of intimidating or scaring school employees or students, the focus on freedom of speech may become a non-issue.
Many associated with the school seem rather put out over the whole thing. Shortly after the protests, a petition was circulated urging the school to keep the mascot. In part, the petition reads, “They took DIXIE (the marching band theme song) from us don’t let them have our mascot too…Once a DEMON ALWAYS A DEMON!!!!” It garnered over 3,000 signatures, despite stylistic errors that should have embarrassed every English teacher at the school. (Please place a period after “us” and capitalize “don’t.” Run-on sentences are bad, mmmkay?)
In any case, Crosby counts his arrest as a good thing. “I felt honored getting locked up. Every hero in the Bible, every apostle, every prophet, every real preacher got locked up for standing up for Christ,” he said. “I’m not ashamed it happened and I’d do it again.”