A law firm representing the Reading man who was arrested last month for quoting the Bible on a public sidewalk has filed a civil complaint against the city of Reading, the city mayor, the police chief, and two police officers.
Damon Atkins, of Reading, Pennsylvania, was arrested on June 3 for publicly quoting a portion of a Bible verse while standing across the street from a homosexual pride festival. Atkins was held for several hours before being released with criminal charges and a court date set. The Berks County District Attorney later dropped all charges against Atkins.
The civil complaint, filed by Joel A. Ready of Cornerstone Law Firm, lists the City of Reading, Mayor Eddie Moran, Chief of Police Richard Tornielli, and police officers Bradley T. McClure and Courtney Dupree as defendants.
The complaint calls for a jury trial and lists nine counts against the defendants and requests the court “enter judgment in favor of the Plaintiff and against the Defendants” including attorneys’ fees and “such other relief as the court deems necessary, just, or appropriate.”
Moran, who attended the homosexual pride festival on June 3, publicly defended the actions of arresting officer McClure, saying, “freedom of speech does not include the right to disrupt an organized event and interfere with the rights of others.”
Tornielli also defended the actions of the police officers, saying that the “officers gave him warnings to cease that behavior that was disrupting the event.”
A video of Atkins’ arrest went viral, showing Atkins peacefully standing across a two-lane roadway from the homosexual pride festival.
The civil complaint alleges that Atkins’ constitutional rights were violated and the public comments by Tornielli were made “to further chill the speech of Americans who, as a redress of grievances, oppose what the City of Reading did to Atkins and people like him.”
The complaint further alleges that the City of Reading accords a “privileged status to the LGBTQ Pride movement, which privileged status equates any dissenting viewpoint from LGBTQ identity politics…as ‘derogatory comments,’ ‘insults’ and ‘hate speech’ which must be chilled and suppressed.”
The nine counts against the defendants listed in the complaint are First Amendment retaliation, Fourth Amendment retaliation, malicious prosecution (federal law), failure to train, defamation, false light, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution (Pennsylvania law), and assault and battery.
The complaint outlines Atkins’ religious belief in “the existence of a God” as revealed in the Bible and that he believes “all sexual conduct outside of a monogamous marriage between one man and one woman is sin.”
“Atkins further believes, as a matter of his religious faith, that persons who disregard the Bible’s teaching on the foregoing matters, and who do not accept Jesus Christ as the only son of God and the only means of obtaining forgiveness from God for sinful behavior, are not reconciled with God and spiritually are not ‘born again.’”
Ready told The Lancaster Patriot that the case is emblematic of a nationwide push by “certain sectors of our society to try to enshrine certain ideas as protected above the rights of dissenters.”
He called Atkins’ arrest a “clearcut example” of the government engaging in content-based viewpoint discrimination.
Ready said the main reason Atkins is pursuing legal action is because he wants to prevent arrests like this from happening again, either to him or to other street preachers.
“What Damon wants is to make sure that he and others who go out to speak their minds and preach the gospel in Reading will not be interfered with,” Ready said. “That’s the primary goal.”