Anti-Gay Street Preacher and Cohort Arrested

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday August 31, 2009

Though Topeka, Kansas anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church and its leader, Fred Phelps, makes headlines every few weeks for anti-gay street preaching with attitude--members of the congregation wave signs reading "God Hates Fags" and other slogans--the Rev. Phelps is not the only street preacher out there with a message of fear and loathing about gays and lesbians.

Pastor Billy Ball and others associated with Faith Baptist Church, a Primrose, GA house of worship, took to the sidewalks of Manchester, GA with signs bearing various slogans, including "Three Gay Rights: AIDS / Hell / Salvation" and "Repent or Burn," reported an Aug. 31 article at anti-gay religious Web site WorldNetDaily.

Like the Phelps congregation, who have been subject to legal action for picketing the funerals of fallen American soldiers, the Primrose contingent cried foul when they were arrested, citing their Constitutional rights to free expression and peaceable assembly.

The Faith Baptist Church Web site boasts of the "Sons of Thundr" and declares, "The War is On."

The site also posts an ad that compares President Obama to terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, lists upcoming street preaching actions (including one targeting a Britney Spears concert and one scheduled to coincide with Durham, NC's Sept. 26 Pride parade),and lists various depictions of The Ten Commandments that appear in the architecture of federal court buildings.

"It is said that 86% of Americans believe in God," text at the site reads.

"Therefore, it is very hard to understand why there is such a mess about having the Ten Commandments on display or 'In God We Trust' on our money and having God in the Pledge of Allegiance.

"Why don't we just tell the other 14% to Sit Down and SHUT UP!!!" the text adds.

The site also presents the text that appears on shirts worn by church members at anti-gay demonstrations.

Reads the text, "Hell Fire Home of All: Queers, Faggots, Lesbians, Transvestites, Sodomites! Aka Gays."

When police informed Rev. Billy Ball and Chris Pettrigrew that they would need a permit for their street preaching action, the Baptist church members protested that they did not need permits to assemble and publicly declare their religious opposition to gays and lesbians.

The article quoted Pettigrew as saying that he told the police, "It's our constitutional right to free speech. We're not impeding any kind of traffic. We're peaceably assembled, so we're going to do what we came to do."

The police insisted; so did the Baptist demonstrators; Pettigrew and Ball were placed under arrest, but upon their release they headed right back to the same spot to resume their street preaching.

Said Pettigrew, "We weren't going to let them bully us into going home."

The cycle repeated itself, and then repeated again. Each time the men were taken in, they headed back to continue their anti-gay protest.

Said Pettigrew, "By the end of the day, I had been arrested three times, and my pastor was arrested four times--simply because we wouldn't go away."

Added the Baptist preacher, "We're sick and tired of people telling us what we can and can't do. It's not constitutional," WND reported.

As the day, and the cycle of arrests, wore on, others joined Ball and Pettigrew, having driven from North and South Carolina, the article said. Eventually, the anti-gay demonstration included eleven participants.

Said Pettigrew, "By that time they had ceased arresting us, with the exception of my pastor, who was arrested late in the evening," the WND article reported.

The article also reported that, according to Pettigrew, the church group is careful never to break the law--to a point: if the group's interpretation of their Constitutional rights contradicts local law, the article indicated, the group will break the law.

Pettigrew said the he and the others in the group would observe and obey the law "as long as it doesn't interfere with constitutional rights."

Saying that he would not have faced arrest if he had been on the sidewalk proclaiming a commercial venture, Pettrigew potulated that his "Christian message" had drawn the police to his group and led to the arrests.

The WND article quoted Pettigrew as saying, "If they arrest us for proclaiming the word of God, what will they arrest us for next?"

Declared Pettrigrew, "We need to get the word out that the rights of the American people are quickly being taken away, and nobody even knows it."

A Columbia City Paper article from Sept. 18, 2007, profiled Pastor Ball briefly. "Pastor Billy Ball... has been to more gay parades than a pair of rainbow-colored bicycle shorts," the article observes.

The article went on to cite the pastor's anti-gay shirt, calling it "a special collared shirt tailor made for [Pride], perfect for a round of golf and a quick dinner at Saluda's afterwards."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.