Protesters at Liberty Place can resume demonstrations, judge rules

    A Philadelphia judge has ruled that a controversial religious group is free to demonstrate outside of a Center City skyscraper.

    Following two days of testimony, Common Pleas Court Judge Ellen Ceisler said Friday that the Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge is free to demonstrate outside Liberty Place.

    At the end of May, retailers at Liberty Place filed a civil suit against the West Philadelphia nonprofit following a string of protests at 16th and Chestnut streets.

    They argued that the long and loud demonstrations, with the group hurling slurs against gays and women, were scaring away customers.

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    “It was the full exoneration of the ISUPK’s First Amendment freedoms,” said Jamie Funt, who represents protesters. “I don’t think we could be more pleased.”

    “The court sided with the little guy today,” he said.

    Jason Gosselin, who represents the Liberty Place retailers, said he’s disappointed with the ruling. He thinks it could establish a bad precedent for other business owners.

    “[Ceisler] felt that the First Amendment rights outweighed the rights of the property owners,” said Gosselin.Retailers also argued that ISUPK’s demonstrations violated trespass laws.

    Though the group’s protests took place on public property, they caused onlookers to gather in a private setback just outside of Liberty Place’s doors, according to the suit.

    An earlier court ruling barred the group from using that private space. The temporary injunction is no longer in place, but protesters are still supposed to stay away from the area.

    It’s unclear when protesters will return to the busy corner.

    “My guess is that they will probably be back this week,” said Funt.

    ISUPK members say they simply want to empower African-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans.

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