Standing outside a baseball stadium with a sign that says “John 3:16” is not exactly a revolutionary act, but in today’s America it can get you in trouble.
That’s exactly what happened to Gino Emmerich back in July 2014. But now he’s getting a measure of justice.
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 Emmerich, who was lawfully and peacefully exercising his First Amendment rights in a public plaza in front of the San Francisco Giants ballpark. He simply held the “John 3:16” sign in the Willie Mays Plaza prior to a Giants-Dodgers game on Sunday, July 27, 2014.
The lawsuit alleged that police officers violated Emmerich’s right to free speech and assembly that day when they forcefully removed him from the plaza, surrounded him and threatened him with arrest if he did not stop displaying his sign. Under the settlement deal, 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.
“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 Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute and author of several books on the Constitution including his latest, “Battlefield America: The War on the American People.”
Emmerich has also been practicing his “sign ministry” for years, according to his website. In 2012 a man flashed one of Emmerich’s John 3:16 signs behind home plate during the deciding game-four of the Giants-Tigers World Series. It was seen by millions on national TV.
“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,” Whitehead said in a statement.
According to the complaint filed in the action, Emmerich arrived at Willie Mays Plaza carrying his sign inscribed with the scripture verse that is a central tenet of Christianity. Other people were in the plaza, some displaying signs and otherwise communicating messages.
Also in the plaza that day was a makeshift broadcast booth put together for a live broadcast and pregame discussion for ESPN SportsCenter.
ESPN was well aware of Emmerich’s ministry and its producers are apparently not fans.
As Emmerich neared the broadcast booth, he was approached by one of the show’s producers and four uniformed San Francisco police officers.
Read the full complaint: Gino Emmerich vs. San Francisco.
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 to avoid being arrested.
ESPN is the same network which gave its annual “Courage” Award to Caitlyn (formerly Bruce) Jenner over a high school girl who played basketball until just a few days before her death from cancer.
The First Amendment suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California by Rutherford Institute attorneys. They charge that 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.
Emmerich was peacefully exercising his First Amendment rights in a place he had every lawful right to be, according to Rutherford attorneys.
He was “in no way causing a disruption in the plaza, the baseball stadium known as ‘AT&T Park,’ or any other business or agency in the area, nor was he acting in a criminal manner,” according to a statement emailed to WND by Rutherford Institute. “Moreover, other people in the plaza were displaying signs and communicating messages.”
The suit was filed in June 2015 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
Attorney Michael Millen of Los Gatos, California, assisted The Rutherford Institute in its defense of Emmerich’s First Amendment rights.