UPDATE: 4.4.2019. Thanks to attorney Joe Bodiford and his team, I was acquitted today, on appeal. THANK YOU to all who supported this exhausting effort! This fund is now committed to suing ECUA and the Escambia Sheriff's Department, for wrongful arrest, malicious prosecution and damages for over a year of legal wrangling and stress. In addition, Lois Benson should be charged with perjury... out of my hands, though. In fact, her comments double down on (easily provable) lies she offered in court - that she asked me to be silent and to leave and that this all occurred during their meetings. I NEVER interrupted a meeting. This all occurred BEFORE the Call to Order, by Benson's own design. That's clear in videos. You can't demand silence BEFORE a meeting starts - especially when someone is doing the exact same thing the board is: praying in a public forum of their creation. This is not just a religious liberty case. For over a year, ECUA has threatened me with arrest for even showing up at these government meetings. That trespass order remains in place, even after acquittal. I will also have to sue to regain my right to attend ECUA meetings. Let's do this!
UPDATE: 8.6.2018. The judge found me guilty on both counts. She said I purposely interrupted the "process" of starting their prayer. She ignored the fact that I was not ever asked to leave, as Chair Benson untruthfully claimed on the stand. She ignored that the Call to Order is the actual start of the meeting and that a public forum exists before that time. I got more than minimum sentence, costing me perhaps $700+, 3 months probation, 25 hours community service, and random drug/alcohol testing for some reason. She (Judge Joyce Williams) also gave ECUA license to silence the audience before the meeting begins, under threat of arrest, and to ban citizens from their meetings at will. So, these establishment clause, free speech and prayer violations will continue unabated.
This campaign is for the cost of appeal and/or my fines if an appeal is not feasible. If anything is left, I will use it as seed to sue ECUA for civil rights including unlawful arrest, battery and curbing free speech at and before government meetings. I do not benefit from this AT ALL. In fact, my efforts negatively impact my local life. I need these funds FIRST to get legal help to deal with these charges, THEN to bring some consequence to ECUA for their hypocritical choices in handling and hiding their illegal invocations with violence and Constitutional violations. Beyond the 'unofficial-but-still-a-meeting' issue, ECUA STILL hides their invocations from public video. Now they've added suppressing others' prayers and criticism of their actions.
I did not take these actions for myself, but simply to convince ECUA to either 1) embrace their illegal invocations and allow them to see the light of day, or 2) to stop ignoring the various legal failings of their invocation process and get right with legal precedent. Unfortunately, this is par for the course in the deep south. Three other local boards also discriminate and break the law with their invocations. Just look at the reaction from my July 2016 Satanic Temple invocation at the City Council.
On 2.22.18, I was arrested at the Emerald Coast Utility Authority (ECUA, Pensacola Florida, our local elected water/sewage board) before their monthly meeting. I was charged with trespassing (because I would not be silent and quietly spoke a prayer before the meeting started) and resisting arrest without violence (for going limp, passively resisting).
Why? Before the meeting, I kindly, calmly spoke the Lord's Prayer to the (all-xtian) board members for several minutes - all before the Call to Order. I ended with the board chair, Lois Benson, at about the time she wanted to start their "unofficial" prayer. Again, before the actual meeting.
BACKGROUND: Chair Benson and ECUA (a non-legislative body, not allowed to pray under Galloway) only allows board members (illegal, exclusive, establishment clause violation). Secularists made offers before March 2015 and since. When that happened, Benson moved the invocations to before the Call to Order, on attorney advice. Why? So they can argue these prayers are unofficial... and not subject to legal scrutiny or inclusion. This also keeps them off the public record (she ordered video not to be recorded since).
After being thrown out and silenced at previous meetings, on this day I chose not to be silent until the meeting's Call to Order. I prayed calmly as Ms Benson started her own prayer. She could have continued, but objected to me exercising my free speech rights. She didn't ask me to leave. Instead she ordered a hired deputy to remove me. To be clear, she had me arrested for quietly praying to her BEFORE the meeting began, exactly what she was doing. She refused to issue the Call to Order (as I suggested), which I would have honored in silence. In short, Benson contends that, though not official, they can pray (on mic), but I had to be silent... BEFORE the meeting. NO!
Eventually, I was arrested and banned from future meetings. I did not comply with this unjust arrest, so I was charged with for resisting arrest too. Eight interesting hours later, I was home on bail. Also note: I did not get to speak out in the public forum... for the second time and counting. I've been unable to return, now 8 more times. I have POV video of most of this incident. All of it is on my youtube channel, shamalamagram.
- Charles Suhor
- Charles Sparrow
- Lee roseberry
- JULIE XOXO Suhor
- Don Perryman
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