| The Columbus Dispatch
Pro-life Mass disrupted by protesters
Pro-life Mass disrupted by protesters
Courtney Hergesheimer, The Columbus Dispatch
Three reproductive rights activists who were charged last month for their actions during a January protest at the Respect Life Mass at St. Joseph Cathedral Downtown were arraigned on Friday.
The misdemeanor charges — filed on Feb. 18 in Franklin County Municipal Court against Jordyn Close, 24; Michelle M. Davis, 39; and Mason Hickman, 24 — include disorderly conduct and criminal trespass. All pleaded not guilty on Friday morning and are scheduled for pre-trial hearings in March and April.
Anne Morrice, 35, who faces these misdemeanors as well as a charge for criminal damage, will be arraigned on March 19.
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The four charged were part of a group of eight activists who stormed into the cathedral during its morning Mass on Jan. 22. At the time, no arrests were made, said George Jones, spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus.
The Mass is an annual event hosted by the diocese on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in the United States. The protesters marched around with signs while chanting about abortion rights being under attack before they were escorted out by police and diocesan officials.
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Morrice was charged with criminal damage because she knocked over a table when entering the cathedral in her efforts to run to the pulpit, according to the court complaint filed by Columbus Police Officer Zachary Rosen.
None of the defendants could be reached immediately for comment on Monday afternoon.
The Mass was being presided over by Catholic Diocese of Columbus Bishop Robert Brennan. He released a statement Monday and said he “appreciates the action by the Columbus City Attorney’s Office to cite those individuals who interrupted the Respect Life Mass.” The statement went on to thank the Columbus Police Department for its “rapid response” and subsequent investigation.
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“We are also thankful for the proactive concern shown by our city’s leaders in supporting people of faith and their right to worship in peace and free of disruption,” Brennan said.
Both the Greater Columbus and Ohio Right to Life groups released statements supporting the charges and the work of the police.
“Even our pro-choice city attorney recognized that the rule of law must always apply and our churches are sacred institutions,” said Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life in a statement. “Menacing others and yelling vulgarities at a church service at which young children were present is both unlawful and unconscionable … Such displays of irreverence towards women and children practicing their faith is tragic and uncalled for.”
The Ohio Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (Ohio RCRC) expressed support for those charged on Monday and said they engaged in a “brief peaceful protest.”
The coalition’s statement called on the Catholic Conference of Ohio, the Columbus Police Department and the Ohio Attorney General’s Office to stop prosecuting the community organizers for speaking out at the public event.
“These protesters and organizers engaged in nonviolent direct action at St. Joseph Cathedral to stand up for patients and abortion providers,” the statement reads. “No church is above the law or public scrutiny. And no church can claim to be an inviolable sacred space when it abuses its power and authority to promote a political agenda and demean those seeking abortion care.”
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Women Have Options Ohio, NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio and Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity also released statements supporting the protesters.
Complaints filed by police in court stated that the defendants caused inconvenience, annoyance and alarm to four named diocesan officials, the congregation in attendance and those watching online by “making unreasonable noise and … grossly abusive language.” It also states that they yelled “this church teaches hate,” “Roe is the floor; we demand more” and that they stood on the pulpit screaming and holding signs in support of abortion.
The complaint also said that the protesters refused to leave after being told to do so by a police officer.