Even after a judge ruled against them twice, prosecutors in Spokane, Washington are still going after a pastor who was present at protests of the Drag Queen Story Hour at a local public library.
In early December, Municipal Court Judge Tracy A. Staab dismissed all charges against Pastor Afshin Yaghtin of New Covenant Baptist Church. Then when prosecutors tried to get her to reinstate the charges against Yaghtin, she declined to do so. Now the prosecution is taking its case to the next level, appealing it to the Spokane Superior Court.
The story began back in June when Pastor Yaghtin stood outside the public library observing the protests for and against drag queens reading to children there. The Washington Times reports that police tried to keep the opposing groups on opposite sides of the street, but Mr. Yaghtin objected when he saw that supporters of the story hour were allowed to demonstrate near the library, while opponents were kept farther away.
As reported previously by CBN News, he was arrested for obstructing the police.
Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) is representing Pastor Yaghtin, and stated in a press release that "the police arrested Yaghtin after he questioned the police's favorable treatment of supporters and unfavorable treatment of anyone they perceived to be non-supportive of a Drag Queen Story Hour at a Spokane library. The pastor declined to retreat across the street to a "protester" zone when he did not consider himself a protestor but rather an observer."
In her dismissal of all charges against Yaghtin, the judge said that "the scope of the protest zones were expanded to include anyone attending the event who had an opinion about the event, regardless of whether they were protesting or creating a disturbance."
After two rulings against the prosecution, PJI says the prosecutors' pursuit of a conviction of Pastor Yaghtin has reached an "alarming level." According to PJI, they have characterized his speech on the day of the protests in extreme terms, claiming he was using "offensive language that could incite violence" and was trying to "advance his public protest and profile." PJI also notes that one prosecutor has deleted his comments about the case from social media where he referred to those opposing drag queens reading to kids as "religious loonies."
As for Pastor Yaghtin's speech that day, the judge took it into account in her ruling to dismiss the case. Jorge Ramos, the Seattle attorney for PJI who represented Yaghtin, told CBN News that police were asking everyone whether they were for or against having the drag queens read to children, and herding them into groups accordingly, regardless of their behavior.
"The judge emphasized that law enforcement told Pastor Afshin [Yaghtin] to move based on his expressed beliefs. They do not argue against this. We are grateful that the judge reaffirmed her decision and disregarded the prosecution's escalated rhetoric. Unfortunately, our focus now must shift to the Court of Appeals."
Ramos told CBN News he has not yet received anything from the prosecutor's office. When the appeal will be heard is to be determined. He said it's always hard to know how a court will rule on a case, but he is hopeful it will let the rulings of the lower court stand, something appeals courts like to do if they can.