COLUMBUS, MS, May 16, 2014 ( – A pastor who says he was arrested and denied food and water for hours because he held a pro-life sign has sued, saying city laws violate his First Amendment right to free speech.


On March 30, 2011, Pastor Stephen Joiner was driving through the streets of Columbus, Mississippi, when he saw dozens of members of Pro-Life Mississippi peacefully holding signs supporting the unborn child's right to life. He pulled over and learned they were trying to build support for the state's Personhood Amendment, which failed to pass the following November.

Joiner, the pastor of the city's Church of the Nazarene, supported the cause, so he picked up a sign and stood alongside them. Some were displaying photographs of victims of abortion, sometimes called “graphic images.” Others merely showed an unborn child in the womb.

Joiner says that Police Captain Frederick Shelton told him to move, because he was blocking traffic, although he was several feet from the road.

“Captain Shelton then told Pastor Joiner that he was 'refusing to move when an officer tells him to move,'” according to a legal complaint filed in U.S. District Court on Joiner's behalf by Liberty Counsel. Captain Shelton charged him with violating the city's Parade Ordinance and Handbill Ordinance.

“See how this works? If we were out here protesting for gay rights, the police would be out here protecting us, not arresting us,” Joiner said as he was being arrested. “But they come out to arrest good Christian folks.”

“Sir, you are being arrested by a Christian and a Chaplain,” Captain Shelton told him.

“Pastor Joiner was then handcuffed so tightly that his wrist bled from the handcuffs, taken into custody, shackled in leg restraints, and transported to the Lowndes County Jail,” the lawsuit states. “There, he was denied food water, and even use of a bathroom, although he had explained to them that he was diabetic and had not eaten anything for some time and that he needed to use the restroom.”

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Joiner is suing on the grounds that the Parade and Handbill Ordinances are overly broad, denying his First Amendment right to address issues in the public square – something Joiner, an area pro-life leader, vows to continue.

“The First Amendment protects the right of citizens to express themselves on the public ways free of government interference,” said Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel. “The city’s actions were entirely unjustified and are an affront to the fundamental rights of all Americans – even unpopular speech is protected when peacefully expressed, as Pastor Joiner did here.”


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