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Penn. Police Officer Punished for Upholding the Law

ADF-allied attorneys file suit to defend officer who wouldn't violate First Amendment rights of Christians at Kutztown University Thursday, March 12, 2009, 8:30 AM (MST)

PHILADELPHIA ADF-allied attorneys filed a lawsuit against officials of Kutztown University and its police chief Monday on behalf of a police officer who refused to violate the constitutional rights of a group of Christians peacefully communicating on various issues on campus.  As a result of Corporal Steven Armbruster's objection to forcefully removing them from the campus, the Kutztown Univ. Police Dept. suspended him without pay for five days, issued him a disciplinary letter, and threatened him with termination if he takes a similar stand in the future.

"Police officers who understand and respect the constitutional rights of American citizens should be commended, not punished," said ADF-allied attorney Randall L. Wenger, chief counsel for the Harrisburg-based Independence Law Center.  "Corporal Armbruster honored his conscience as a Christian and his duty as a civil servant to protect--not violate--these citizens' free speech rights.  He knew that he was being asked to punish the wrong party in the situation."

On April 18, 2007, approximately 15 members of a Christian group peacefully shared their faith on the KU campus, including speaking about moral issues such as abortion and homosexual behavior.  As the members shared their message, about 300 protesters from several organizations and clubs appeared on the scene and loudly opposed the message, causing KU President F. Javier Cevallos and the chief of the KU Police Dept., William Mioskie, to insist the Christian group leave campus.

Shortly after one member of the group was arrested, Armbruster became concerned when Mioskie ordered the officers to "push" others in the group off campus for "disorderly conduct."  Armbruster understood that this would involve arresting or threatening to arrest the rest of the group upon whom the protesters had descended, though he saw no evidence of disorderly conduct among the members of the Christian group.

Armbruster explained to Mioskie that he believed such action would violate the group's civil rights.  Mioskie immediately relieved Armbruster of his duties and told him to leave the scene while other officers executed his orders.  After hearing the evidence, the court dismissed the charges against members of the Christian group who were arrested.

Armbruster was placed on paid administrative leave.  Following a pre-discipline conference, he was suspended without pay for five working days and warned that he will face termination if he makes a similar decision in the future.  He currently has a disciplinary letter on file that jeopardizes his promotion to sergeant.
  • Complaint in lawsuit Armbruster v. Cavanaugh filed with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania


By Chelsea Schilling


Chaplain John McTernan is a former federal agent and co-founder of the Christian police group International Cops for Christ. He told WND, "Since 1999 or 2000, York police's conduct has been outrageous toward pro-life advocates at the Planned Parenthood abortion center."

McTernan cites incidents of abuse and complacency on the part of city police officers who are compensated by Planned Parenthood to work overtime shifts standing outside of the clinic. Uniformed officers are said to be paid $37.50 per hour, and they sign up for shifts on a volunteer basis.

"They watched one woman get beaten. She had to be put in the hospital," McTernan said. "High speed cars have attempted to run us over. We have videos of most of it. They won't do anything."

In one incident, McTernan said an 18-wheeler tried to run over John Holman, one of his fellow pro-life advocates. Holman jumped out of the way to avoid the truck and was arrested for criminal trespass after he landed on a strip of property the clinic claims to own, according to McTernan. They submitted a video of the incident to authorities, and the charges were later dropped.

"They needed criminal cases to prove we were dangerous there," he told WND. "They had a civil suit against us and were trying to get an injunction for a bubble zone. They lost that. That went on for about two years. Then, there's an alley right next to the abortion clinic where we can get close to the people going in, and we can get close to the workers. They were trying to get convictions on us so they could get a court order keeping us off that alley. That was their objective."

McTernan said even with his background as a federal agent, he is shocked at how York police have treated pro-life advocates.

"The behavior of the York city police and the DA office is frightening," McTernan told WND. "In all of my travels, and talking to police as a chaplain, I have never seen such disrespect for the law and such patronizing. They're pursuing criminal prosecution on someone they know is innocent in [Ferguson's] case, because her beliefs are pro-life."

Officers in the police department declined to respond to WND's multiple requests for comment.

It was just another in a series of incidents in which governmental authorities appear to be trying to limit Christians' speech rights, based on the content of their statements.


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