SPOKANE, Washington (LifeSiteNews) — A Christian pro-life group was forced to pay nearly $1 million in fines for allegedly “disturb[ing] the peace within” an abortion mill by praying, preaching, and singing hymns outside, a judge ruled earlier this month.
Judge Tim Fennessy of Spokane County Superior Court ruled that the pro-life Christian group, called The Church at Planned Parenthood (TCAPP), would need to pay $850,000 in legal fees in addition to the $110,000 in civil damages they were previously ordered to pay out to Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho.
The church said its insurance would cover the cost of legal fees and affirmed they would continue holding their services despite the court’s decision.
Fennessy’s order came after a Spokane County judge ruled in December that the church had run afoul of Washington state law on nearly two dozen occasions.
The judge decided that the pro-life group, which calls its monthly meetings “a worship service at the gates of hell,” had “willfully or recklessly” disrupted the business of the abortion facility and “unreasonably disturb[ed] the peace within the facility” on 22 occasions, Catholic News Agency reported.
TCAPP co-founder Pastor Ken Peters pushed back against the characterization in comments to local media, saying the group was simply “singing, praying, and preaching … after hours” according to KREM2 News, a Spokane-based CBS affiliate.
TCAPP had been under strict orders after a September 2020 court decision (which was extended the following year) to keep at least 35 feet away from the abortion facility and refrain from making any noise between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
In remarks to CNA on February 7, Esther Ripplinger, executive director of the pro-life group Human Life of Washington, called the financial penalty “an attack on pro-life, period.”
“It’s an attack on life and it’s unfair. And it’s singled out. These are just trumped-up charges and I hope that they fight it to the fullest extent of the law,” she said.
According to Ripplinger, the church didn’t violate any laws by holding their pro-life services. Instead, the court rulings against them were instances of “a witch hunt against the organizers and against what they believe, and it’s not fair.”
She told CNA she attended one of the group’s monthly meet-ups years ago and “saw firsthand that this group abides by the law.”
“They are on public property and very courteous to anyone,” she said, backing up Peters’ contention that the group meets “in the evenings after hours, so there’s no disruption to the business whatsoever.”
Meanwhile, Father Darrin Connall, vicar general for the Diocese of Spokane, told the outlet that he wasn’t familiar with the laws the TCAPP allegedly broke and wasn’t sure whether the church group was going about its pro-life activism in the most effective way. Still, he said the hefty financial penalty appeared “excessive and punitive.”
In a February 3 Facebook post, Pastor Peters criticized the financial penalties, arguing his “little church” was engaged in “peaceful assembly” and that the $850,000 would primarily go toward “corrupt lawyer’s fees.”
Those fines won’t stop them from their pro-life services, though.
“We are restarting again March 14 at 7 p.m.,” he said. “See you there, Pacific NW. It ain’t over.”