Originally published on Advocate.com September 03 2003 11:00 PM ET
A U.S. court of appeals has reinstated a lawsuit brought by a Christian minister whose antigay billboards in Staten Island, N.Y., were taken down after five days in March 2000. The Reverend Kristopher Okwedy, pastor of the Keyword Ministries, will be back in court this week before Brooklyn, N.Y., federal judge Nina Gershon, who dismissed the suit two years ago, the New York Daily News reports. Okwedy claims his First Amendment rights were violated. He is suing the billboard company for breach of contract as well as former Staten Island borough president Guy Molinari, who wrote a letter of protest to the billboard company. The signs were taken down after Molinari's letter went out.
Okwedy's lawyer, Michael DePrimo of the American Family Association Center for Law and Policy in Mississippi, said the case is not about whether America has become more accepting of gay culture.
"This case is going to determine whether or not religious persons are free to share the Gospel or unpopular religious speech," DePrimo told the Daily News. Okwedy paid PNE Media about $2,500 to design billboard signs that quoted a passage from Leviticus: "Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind. It is abomination." After the signs stirred controversy, Molinari, a Republican, faxed a letter to the president of PNE. "I want to inform you that this message conveys an atmosphere of intolerance which is not welcome in our borough," the letter said. He went on to note that the company made a lot of money from billboard signs in Staten Island.
When she dismissed the suit two years ago, Gershon concluded that Molinari had no regulatory power over the billboard company. But the federal appeals court ruled that "Molinari's letter could be found to contain an implicit threat of retaliation if PNE failed to accede to his requests." Lawyers for PNE and the city, which is representing Molinari, declined to comment. "Primarily, what Mr. Okwedy wants is the billboard back up," DePrimo said. "A jury does not have to decide whether they agree with the views on the billboard but whether Mr. Okwedy's right to free speech was violated."