Members of a right-wing Christian group cannot protest in the land in front of one of Ohio’s largest churches, a central Ohio judge ruled this week.
Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Charles Schneider sided with Vineyard Columbus, an orthodox, evangelical church that for months had been the subject of protests of the Columbus-based Minutemen United. Schneider said protesters were trespassing with their demonstrations.
The protesting group had argued that it was expressing its message within the public right of way. But Schneider ruled that the right of way ends at the edge of the road along the church. That stretch of the road in a northeast Columbus suburb has no curb or sidewalk.
“Due to the absence of a sidewalk, a berm or a shoulder on Vineyard’s property, the city has a prescriptive easement only to the edge of the pavement,” Schneider wrote. “The right of way can be no larger.”
The judge further noted that protesters are not allowed to place “signs or any other object of any type” on Vineyard’s property.
Members of Minutemen United have said they are targeting Vineyard because it’s been too passive when it comes to fighting “the culture war” against abortion, homosexuality and same-sex marriage – including helping women recover from abortions and accepting gay members. The group’s displays include signs – one labeling the 8,500-member evangelical church “pagan” – and graphic images of aborted fetuses.
Court records identify two Minutemen United members and list others as John and Jane Does.
A Minutemen member who represented himself, Richard D. Justman, said the ruling will be appealed.
“You can’t take the public right of way away from the public,” he told The Columbus Dispatch.
Schneider had issued a temporary restraining order against Minutemen United last month while he deliberated on the case. The order prompted the protesters to move their demonstrations across the street from the church.