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On The Front Lines

First Amendment Victory: San Francisco Settles Lawsuit Over Activist's Right to Peacefully Display Sign in Willie Mays Plaza in Front of Giants Ballpark

SAN FRANCISCO, Ca. — A settlement has been reached in a First Amendment lawsuit filed by The Rutherford Institute against police officers who allegedly intimidated and threatened to arrest a man who was lawfully and peacefully exercising his First Amendment rights in the Willie Mays Plaza prior to a Giants v. Dodgers game by holding up a “John 3:16” religious sign in the public plaza in front of the San Francisco Giants ballpark. The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on behalf of Gino Emmerich, alleged that police officers violated Emmerich’s right to free speech and assembly when they forcefully removed him from Willie Mays Plaza, surrounded him and threatened him with arrest if he did not cease displaying his “John 3:16” sign. Under the settlement agreement, the City and County of San Francisco have agreed to conduct an investigation about the status of Willie Mays Plaza in connection with the rights of citizens to exercise their First Amendment rights there.

“Much of what used to be great about America—especially as it pertains to our love of freedom and our commitment to First Amendment activities—has been overshadowed by a greater desire for security and an inclination towards political correctness,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “That this incident, with its police intimidation tactics, overt discrimination and censorship, took place in a public plaza dedicated to Willie Mays—a legendary baseball player who lived through an era of police tactics, discrimination and censorship—is a powerful indictment of all that is wrong with America today.”

According to the complaint filed in the action, on Sunday, July 27, 2014, prior to the start of a Giants v. Dodgers baseball game, Gino Emmerich arrived at Willie Mays Plaza carrying a “John 3:16” sign, a religious reference to a central tenet of Christianity. Other people were in the plaza, some displaying signs and otherwise communicating messages. Also in the plaza was a makeshift broadcast booth put together for a live broadcast and discussion of the Giants v. Dodgers game for ESPN SportsCenter. As Emmerich neared the broadcast booth, he was approached by one of the show’s producers and four uniformed San Francisco police officers. Emmerich was allegedly warned by the producer that if he showed his sign, he would be arrested based upon the fact that he was known to the producer as one who displays religious signage. After the producer walked away, Emmerich stationed himself in view of the camera, behind the commentators, and held up his John 3:16 sign. While Emmerich was holding up his sign, a police officer grabbed him from behind by his shirt and neck and moved him out of the view of the camera. Once Emmerich was clear of the cameras, he was surrounded by four police officers and warned, “If you go over there and hold that sign again, we will arrest you and the sergeant will come over here and decide where we are going to take you.” Emmerich then left the plaza as to avoid the possibility of arrest and turned to The Rutherford Institute for help.

Attorney Michael Millen of Los Gatos, Calif., assisted The Rutherford Institute in its defense of Emmerich’s First Amendment rights.

Case History

07-09-2015: Rutherford Institute Sues California Police for Threatening Man Who Was Peacefully Displaying a 'John 3:16' Religious Sign in Front of S.F. Giants Ballpark


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