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Minister fighting for gay rights in Holland appears in court

Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio

An Ottawa County judge is considering whether to dismiss a case against a minister who has stood up for gay rights in the City of Holland.

Reverend Bill Freeman was arrested last Octoberafter he tried to occupy Holland City Hall. He was protesting Holland City Council’s vote against adding sexual orientationand gender identity to its anti-discrimination laws.

The proposed changes would’ve protected homosexual and transgender persons from discrimination by employers and landlords. State and federal laws prohibit discrimination based on race, gender, and religion, but not sexuality or gender identity.

For months, Freemanand others repeatedly begged city council to reverse its decision. But when city council said that wasn’t going to work, Freeman’s attorney Kary Love says he opted for civil disobedience.

“He tried these other options first. Having exhausted those, he made what the Supreme Court has called in another context a pained expression of anguish over the second class citizenship of his fellow man. That’s not only something that politically, I think the Constitution of the United States stands for, but, religiously, the reverend is bound to do by his faith,” Love said following more than two hours of testimony Monday afternoon.

Love is asking the court to dismiss a trespassing charge against his client based on his right to free speech and assembly.

City attorney Vincent Duckworth argued that officials must close city hall to keep it safe. He referenced past instances of vandalism, theft, and even a fire that was started in Holland City Hall.

He wants the case to remain strictly concerning the trespassing argument because, he says, Freeman had other options besides occupying city hall.

He could’ve tried to bring a referendum to the people to vote on it. He could’ve run for city council, Duckworth said.

“I’m not a political guy,” Freeman said in ruling those options out, “and I don’t believe it’s right for a majority to vote on the rights of a minority.”

Love tried to make the case that city officials’ opinions of Freeman played into his arrest – or at least the timing of it. He brought one city official to the stand who admitted he was pleased that the arrest happened after 11p.m., after the 11 o’clock TV newscasts and after the reporter from the local paper left.

That city official said it was only his personal opinion and insisted he didn’t remember the mayor, interim city manager or public safety officials saying anything similar. Another city official said they waited to give Freeman every opportunity to change his mind and leave. 

“This is not a case about trespassing; this is a case about trying to squelch the freedom of speech that I was trying to exercise to draw attention to the injustice in Holland,” Freeman said.

Freeman did not take the stand during the hearing, which was strictly on the motion to dismiss the case.

The city’s attorney declined to comment to reporters on the pending case.

The judge is expected to issue a written opinion within a couple of weeks.

If the case is not dismissed, Freeman says he plans to go through a trial.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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