Moments after he was convicted of trespassing and sentenced to six months in jail, the director of a national anti-abortion group promised to organize even more demonstrations.
"Evidently it's become an outrageous crime to lift up this gospel to kids," said the Rev. Flip Benham, director of Operation Rescue National."We're not going to let this stop us," he said Tuesday, Bible in hand. "It's just that the cost has gone up."
More than 150 Liberty University students demonstrated Nov. 10 at E.C. Glass High School. One group stood outside the public school and held anti-abortion placards while others greeted arriving students with religious and anti-abortion literature.
Defense attorneys said Benham and two Liberty students also convicted of trespassing were exercising free-speech rights. But police officers testified that Benham refused to leave school grounds when he was asked and that the demonstration posed a threat to public safety.
Benham acknowledged he was asked to leave but instead told a school official "we have every right to be on a public sidewalk in front of the school . . . to share the gospel of Jesus Christ."
He said he was unaware he was on school property and that he needed a permit.
Students also testified that demonstrators blocked their path inside and outside the school, and said they were given anti-abortion and pro-Christian leaflets and asked if they believed in Jesus.
The Dallas-based Benham said he has conducted religious demonstrations at nearly 2,000 schools around the country and this was the first time he faced criminal charges. He said he was "flabbergasted" at the outcome, and his attorneys promised an appeal.