The leader of a controversial evangelical group has filed a federal lawsuit suit against the city, former Police Chief Jeff Halstead and a sergeant, alleging that his civil rights were violated when he was banned from a sidewalk during a gay pride festival.
David Grisham, described in the lawsuit as an “Evangelical, born-again Christian” and a resident of Fritch in the Texas Panhandle, is the leader of Repent Amarillo.
Grisham and Repent Amarillo have garnered headlines in the past for their tactics, including his failed attempt to burn the Quran during the 2010 anniversary of the 9-11 attacks, and he and his group’s videoing and protesting outside strip clubs, gay bars and sexually-oriented businesses.
Grisham ran for mayor of Amarillo in 2011 but garnered only 1 percent of the votes.
Grisham’s attorney, Nathan Kellum with the Center for Religious Expression, said Grisham’s past and what some may deem controversial views don’t change the fact that his right to free speech was violated.
“In this instance, all he wanted to do was talk about his Christian faith to others,” Kellum said. “In public places, we really ought to have the freedom to speak.”
Fort Worth City Attorney Sarah Fullenwider declined to comment Wednesday because the city had not yet received the lawsuit. Halstead declined to comment.
The lawsuit states that Grisham, family members and friends had come to downtown Fort Worth on Oct 4, 2014, to share their evangelistic message during the Tarrant County Gay Pride Week Association festival and parade.
Kellum said Grisham traveled to the event because he knew there were a large group of people there and “the more people, the more opportunity to talk to people.”
“It was not a protest,” Kellum said. “He likes to talk to people about the merits and benefits of Christianity. That was his purpose of being there.”
The lawsuit alleges that two Fort Worth officers approached Grisham’s wife and daughter as they handed out Gospel tracts at General Worth Square, where the festival was taking place.
The officers ordered the mother and daughter to leave under threat of arrest, stating that the gay pride association had a permit for the festival and controlled activity in the area, according to the lawsuit. The officers then escorted the mother and daughter to a sidewalk on the other side of 8th Street, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit alleges that Sgt. Rachel DeHoyos later approached Grisham’s wife to warn her to stay away from the area. Witnessing the interaction, Grisham said he went over to join in the conversation, telling DeHoyos that he took issue with the ban.
He said DeHoyos insisted that Grisham stay on that side of the street because she couldn’t guarantee his safety on the other side.
“This is going to be our … designated free speech zone,” DeHoyos allegedly told him, according to the lawsuit.
When Grisham continued to say that he only wanted to go on the sidewalk across the street, DeHoyos went to find a representative with the association, Tony Coronado, and then issued a criminal trespass warning against Grisham, the lawsuit states.
DeHoyos warned Grisham he could be jailed for a Class B misdemeanor if he and his group went into the festival, the lawsuit states.
Where to stand
Kellum said the sidewalk to which Grisham wanted access adjoined the park but was not inside the festival area.
“There is no better place, no more ideal place, for a citizen to share his views than a public sidewalk and he was deprived of that opportunity,” Kellum said.
Coronado, a board member with gay pride association, said Grisham and his supporters had worn rainbow-colored T-shirt to apparently blend in at the festival and were handing out anti-LGBT literature.
He said the location where Grisham wanted to stand was covered as part of the group’s event area by the city-issued permit.
“He was not denied his public speech,” Coronado said. “He could have just as well stood in the next block, on that corner. Nobody prevented him from handing out those pamphlets.”
He said other members of Grisham’s group were standing without problem on the corner near the Hilton.
“They were handing out pamphlets. Nobody prevented them from talking,” Coronado said. “He was just determined to want to stand in that one spot. That’s all it was.”
Deanna Boyd, 817-390-7655