SELINSGROVE — A black minister from North Carolina said he never attracted the attention of police while protesting outside abortion clinics until he started to speak about racism as well.
Valley ministers said the arrest of Pastor Ronnie Wallace is an alarming infringement of the minister's right to free speech.
Wallace, 67, of Charlotte, N.C., was arrested on July 17 after beginning to preach from atop a ladder to several people waiting outside the Family Reproductive Health Abortion Clinic in Charlotte.
Wallace begin preaching in the parking lot across the street from the clinic about eight years ago and said he never had any trouble until he added racism to his teachings.
"I get there about 7:30 a.m. every Saturday, and the police are already there waiting for me, but I started speaking about racism and how it is coming back to this country, and I guess the police didn't like to hear that," Wallace said.
Pastor Mark Gitten, of Higher Hope Ministries in Selinsgrove, agreed with Wallace about racism becoming a problem, but said he isn't the preach-from-a-ladder type.
"I'm not one for picketing or soliciting in that way, but I don't think it is right to just shut someone down for preaching," he said. "As a pastor I know the laws, and Wallace had the freedom to preach."
A female officer from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department made the arrest. Wallace said there were more then 20 officers standing by.
"I told the officer I was there to preach about saving babies' lives and racism, and she told me to get down from the ladder and be quiet," he said. "I told her I had a constitutional right, and then she handcuffed me."
Wallace was charged with resisting an officer and was fined $300.
Gittens said that if members of other organizations are allowed a forum to speak about racial issues, all opinions should be granted the same access.
"This just seems to be kind of a double standard," he said. "Racism is alive and well in America and it's a shame because it has a way of finding its way in every generation."
An employee from Hillcrest Medical Center, an abortion clinic in Harrisburg, said she heard about Wallace and thinks he shouldn't be allowed to preach outside abortion clinics.
"How far can you take freedom of speech?" she asked. "We provide a service and yet we get all kinds of people outside protesting and preaching, and it just doesn't help."
Pastor James Bond, of the Revival Tabernacle Church in Watsontown, said that whenever a preacher is targeted by law enforcement, it deserves attention.
"I am deeply concerned anytime when any preacher of the Gospel is silenced," he said. "That is a real concern we could have."
Bond has witnessed racism and said he hopes it doesn't find its way to the Valley.
"There is still a bit of it everywhere," he said.
Nisan Trotter, 27, of Lewisburg, is a pastor of Bucknell University campus ministry. He said he doesn't feel any effects of racism but understands being a minority minister.
"I haven't ever encountered anything like that, so I think I have been blessed in that way," he said. "But I will be praying for Pastor Wallace to get through this." Wallace is scheduled to appear in a North Carolina court on Aug. 23.
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