Arrested At a Jehovah's Witness Convention

I thought I would tell of my rather unpleasant experience with JW leaders many years ago.

I was living in Panama City, FL. at the time and read that the JWs were going to hold a regional conference at the local civic center. Having been active with Watchman Fellowship for years (a counter-cult ministry), I had some information in a kind of tract form that I thought I'd distribute there. Knowing the attendees wouldn't take them from my hand, the tactic was to wait until they were all inside, then put them on the cars. Instead of just leafletting them, which would only result in a JW coming outside and snatching them all, I learned to fold them and stick them either between the crack in the car door or, better yet, the trunk (where they wouldn't fall out as soon as they opened their doors and where the people would see the info only once they got home and away from prying eyes).

I called the civice center beforehand and asked if I was working for Pizza Hut and wanted to distribute coupons in the parking lot there, could I, and they said yes. Cool. If they allowed one leaflet, they had to allow them all. So I went out that Saturday and leafletted all the cars until I ran out, then left. Mission accomplished. I went back out the next day with a new batch, and before I could get to a dozen cars, I had a police car come racing up to me, screech to a stop, and a cop get out and order me to put both hands on the car. Evidently, work of my previous day's work hadn't gone unnoticed, and the JW leaders were determined to stop this troublemaker from spreading his lies to their members.

Now remember - no one was in the lot or even outside at the time the cop pulled up; they were all inside for the current session. I was totally alone. So this rent-a-cop cuffed me, put me in the back of his car, and drove me to the front entrance to the civic center. He had radioed ahead that he got the troublemaker and was bringing him in. When we got there, several higher-up JWs in suits came out of the building to look at me in the car with curiosity like some kind of zoo animal, while the police sergeant (I learned later) also came out with them. He opened my door and gave me a live-and-let-live lecture on leaving them alone and how they had their truth and I had mine(!) I said something like, "Truth isn't a matter of opinion," which seemed to set him off. I think if I had acted sufficiently cowed and apologetic, I might have gotten off with a warning. But he was going to make me pay.

I think the arresting officer must have been sympathetic to me once he saw what was going on. He cuffed me with my hands in front, not in back, and he never searched me. He even allowed me to keep my keys, wallet, and witnessing materials with me when I was booked and put in jail! I'm pretty sure that isn't standard procedure. So I sat in cell for about four hours with three other guys. I tried witnessing to them, too, but they weren't interested. They probably thought Why do we have to share a cell with this guy? Get us away from this maniac!

When my name was finally called, I went to the counter and was told I could sign for my own release on my own recognizance, and that my charge was only a third-degree misdemeanor. I asked what was the charge? He said "disturbing a religious assembly." How could I be disturbing them when they didn't even know I was outside? He said I would have to appear in court, and he gave me a date.

I left the jailhouse, walked back to my car a mile away, and drove home. What do I do now? It's not like I make a lot of money as a delivery driver (at the time). However, I had heard of Jay Sekulow's Christian legal group the ACLJ from CBN (he's now President Trump's personal attorney). So I looked them up and, surprise, they had a branch office right there in Panama City! I called them and got an attorney on the line (a small miracle in itself). I asked him if I could speak with them about my situation, and he told me to come in. When I went down there, he told me to give him the full story, and when I did he said that they clearly violated my rights - AND that he'd take my case pro bono (if we won, THEY would pay his court fees and I would pay nothing). Wow. God had prepared this situation from the foundation of the world, I think.

I remember attending one hearing about a week later before a judge with my ACLJ attorney as a necessary formality, but I didn't have to do anything in person after that. In the meantime, Jay Sekulow had his daily national radio talk show, and I was told by my attorney that he would be discussing my case on a specific date with sekulow. I made sure to record that day, and sure enough, they mentioned me and my arrest and how they were optimistic in its outcome. It was very cool to hear of my outreach efforts on national radio. Not in a million years did I think that would happen when I first went out there.

A few weeks later, I was notified by my ACLJ attorney that the state (the defendent) had agreed to drop the charges against me - if I wouldn't sue them. How ironic. I suppose I could have sued for damages, but since I wasn't actually paying my attorney, I was happy with the outcome. He said that he made sure that they instituted first amendment training for new recruits in the police academy and a few other things in the settlement. The only thing I didn't think to ask for was to have my arrest annulled (it's come back to be a thorn in my side in later years). However, when it comes up now and it's asked what I was arrested for, I just say "for sharing the gospel," which is the truth. It gives me an opportunity to witness even more, so God has made even that negative into a positive for me.

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