Courage of Their Convictions by Adam Butler (April 2000)

Courage to stand up for one’s convictions–a lost art? This was certainly not the case, as four people (three of whom were members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the Birmingham Freethought Society) were arrested for exercising their First Amendment rights to peacefully counter-demonstrate at a racist rally in Montgomery, Alabama in March.

Their crime: “failure to obey.” What a deliciously ironic offense–Robert Ingersoll and Elizabeth Cady Stanton would undoubtedly be proud. The League of the South (LoS), an organization devoted to “southern pride” and oh, by the way, secession from the U.S., held a rally March 4 on the steps of the state capitol building in support of placing the confederate battle flag back atop the capitol dome. Because we do not support the LoS’s stance on, well, anything, members of the BFS and other local organizations (including the Birmingham Human Rights Project and Socialist Workers’ Party) attended the rally with plans to peacefully counter-demonstrate.

LoS flyers suggested that all were welcome to attend the rally and gaze in wonder at the sea of inbred mutants who were expected to attend. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Upon arrival, BFS member Chris McDougal was accosted by one of the David Duke wannabes for his “Keep Abortion Safe and Legal” sign (LoS is viciously anti-choice).

Soon, the squawks of the man attracted the police, who swarmed in fast, surrounded us and ordered us to leave the rally, despite the fact that it was being held in a public place, and the public had been invited. Once the police realized that talk was an inefficient means of ejecting us from the rally, they began shoving us toward the back of the crowd. “Move behind the barricades,” they said, gesturing toward a line of sawhorse-shaped barricades several hundred feet away from the back of the rally. While unhappy that we would be counter-demonstrating in this crummy spot, we decided to be good little counter-demonstrating boys and girls and complied.

“No, behind the other barricades,” a second officer barked.

OK, now things were beginning to get ridiculous. The police now wanted us to walk even farther away, to a spot more than a football field’s length away from the rally where a second line of barricades rested. We began to resist, asking why we could not stand on the public sidewalk and quietly protest–especially since we were so far away that we could certainly do nothing to disturb the rally.

The police didn’t see it our way. (Obviously they haven’t read my new book, Why Adam is Right and Everyone Ought to Take Notice, available in hardcover and paperback at your local bookstore.)

After more pushing (by the cops, not us), we decided to again retreat at the behest of those trained to protect, serve, and, in this case, annoy. “Now go to the other side of the street,” we were told, just moments after reaching the barricades that supposedly delineated the boundaries between “freedom” and “police state.” Yep, that’s right: apparently having a couple city blocks and two sets of barricades between us and the Inbred Army wasn’t enough. At this point, it became clear that the cops were playing a game in which points were scored by seeing just how far we could be pushed back. Perhaps bonus points would be rewarded if they could get us to actually leave the county . . . So, long story short, four members of our group elected not to move back any farther and were subsequently arrested.

They were: Rachel Doughty, Amanda Faulkenberry, Charity Faulkenberry, and Frank Soukey. After trips to several ATMs (you’d be surprised how hard it is to find several hundred dollars on a Saturday) we were able to get enough credit card cash advances to pay the $800 bond and free our captured compatriots. Then we took them out to lunch at Applebee’s so everything was fine in the end. Arraignment for the four is May 1 at 8:30 a.m. Pam Sumners from the ACLU is looking into defending them and possibly lodging some kind of complaint for a civil rights violation. We’ll see what turns up . . . Foundation member Adam Butler is president of the Birmingham Freethought Society, a student group he founded, is a “master bailer-outer” and is active with the Alabama Freethought Association, a Foundation chapter

Freedom From Religion Foundation