“I’ve done ministries like this at more than 200 universities,” said Jason Storms, director of Faithful Soldier School of Evangelism, a ministry of Mercy Seat Christian Church in Milwaukee, Wis. “We train people to do evangelism, and I have never seen an incident like this.”
Storms and a team of students earlier this week traveled to Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio, with signs, literature and a message of faith.
When they arrived, however, a student complaint led campus police to confront the evangelism team and demand that their signs and literature be put away in accordance with college policy. The evangelists insisted their materials were protected by the freedom of speech guaranteed in the First Amendment, and the officers arrested them on charges of disorderly conduct.
“There are many times when police hassle us and intimidate or bully us on campus, and usually we stand them down and are successful in defending our rights to freedom of speech,” Storms told WND. “I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve had an arrest situation.”
Later in the afternoon, however, two more arrests followed, one on a now-disputed felony charge of striking a police officer.
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Storms himself was detained by police, when after speaking freely with students on campus for a couple of hours, he approached Officer Michael Beane to inquire about the charges filed against the other two evangelists. Storms and Beane then got into an argument, resulting in the officer claiming he was being harassed and Storms being detained in a holding cell.
The situation escalated, however, when Officer Beane demanded that a member of the evangelism team surrender a cell phone that had been taping the incident.
Faithful Soldier student Katie Carroll refused to give up her phone and hid behind fellow evangelist team member Daniel Pollion. What happened next is highly disputed. Natasha Baker, director of public relations for the campus police force, told WND Pollion struck Beane in the face.
“We have witness testimonies, students who did see the officer being punched by one of the demonstrators and at that point [Pollion] was arrested,” Baker said. “We have not had anyone file a police report stating otherwise.”
The members of Faithful Soldier, however, tell a different story.
Pollion, who was released from jail today upon posting $2,000 bond, told the Dayton Daily News, “It can’t be construed as assault or even attempted assault. They were on the offensive, not us.”
Storms told WND his organization has witnesses of their own that say Pollion merely asked the officer to “chill out” when he was placed in a headlock and wrestled to the ground. Storms said Beane radioed in a phantom “fight” and phony charge that he had been assaulted.
“Three of our people were standing there watching the entire thing as well as Sinclair College students,” Storms said. “We have numerous direct, eyewitness testimonies. There was no punch, no assault, nothing like that. It was just a crazy cowboy officer acting belligerently and making his third arrest of the day of a group of Christians peacefully trying to witness.”
Baker told the Daily News, “It is a very serious matter and we don’t have things like this happen often and it deserves our attention.”
She also explained to WND that evangelists from Faithful Soldier had been on campus last year and were told then that while they have the freedom to talk to students, campus policy requires pre-approval of organizations bringing signs or literature.
“Because we do have the campus access policy and they did understand what that policy was before they came on campus,” Baker said, “the officers had asked them to please remove their signs and stop handing out literature unless asked for by students.”
Storms told WND the policy is unconstitutional and the evangelists should not have been forced to put their tracts and signs away. He also believes that the enforcement of First Amendment issues is driven by an anti-Christian atmosphere on college campuses.
“When we first got out there, a young man complained and told us it was not right that we were out there,” Storms said. “There are war protests that take place here where they scream about the war. There was an Obama rally here not too long ago. There are gay pride rallies that take place on this campus. Nobody gets offended by those things. The issue is not with our method; the issue is with our message.”
Storms continued, “I would like to see the campus’ freedom of speech policies changed, because it obviously has policies that aren’t constitutional. I think they need to invest in a little more training for their officers in how to deal with First Amendment situations.”
According to a statement from the college, external investigators will review the incident and report to school’s president.
All four arrested evangelists, including Katie Carroll – who was arrested for obstruction for refusing to surrender the video – have been released on bond.