Pastor sues City of Spokane, claims First Amendment rights violated at Drag Queen Story Hour protest
SPOKANE, Wash. – A local pastor and editor of Christian magazine is suing multiple Spokane agencies, claiming they violated his First Amendment rights while he covered a Drag Queen Story Hour event downtown this past summer.
Afshin Yaghtin, the pastor of the New Covenant Baptist Church, filed the lawsuit January 14th against the City of Spokane, Spokane Public Library, Spokane Police Department, Police Chief Craig Meidl and Sergeant Kevin Vaughn.
The Spokane Public Library held two Drag Queen Story Hour events at their south hill and downtown locations during the summer of 2019. DQSH is a nationwide program that invites drag queens to read to children.
In Spokane, both events drew large crowds, including protestors and counter-protestors.
Yaghtin, who is a vocal opponent of DQSH, was present at both. He was arrested on obstruction charges at the South Hill event in June. At the time, Chief Meidl said Yaghtin was repeatedly asked to join protestors across the street from the library, but he refused.
“The gentleman that was arrested was given numerous requests to go to the other side and he refused, to the point where he made a comment, ‘Well, you’re gonna have to arrest me,’” Meidl said in reference to Yaghtin.
Yaghtin was arrested and put in jail. He posted bond and the charges were later dropped.
A few weeks after his arrest, Yaghtin attended the downtown DQSH event bearing a press badge.
In addition to his role as a pastor, Yaghtin writes for “Saved Magazine,” a Christian conservative publication that claims to “teach correct Biblical doctrine and abolish abortion.”
In the lawsuit, Yaghtin claims Vaughn and members of the Spokane Police Department infringed on his ability to cover the DQSH as a journalist.
“Mr. Yaghtin arrived at the event at approximately 1:45 p.m.. His press badge was clearly visible and he identified himself as a member of the press. It was his intention to perform his duties as a journalist. He intended to interview both protestors and counter protestors,” the lawsuit reads.
Yaghtin’s suit includes police logs to help defend his case. One log states “Several fake press people present (independent) may be infiltrating the reading.”
Yaghtin’s lawsuit claims Sgt. Vaughn approached him as he was attempting to interview counter-protestors.
The suit includes a recorded statement in which Vaughn said, “So here’s the deal. You can move freely. Alright? Once you start engaging people and if you cause a problem or anything like that you’re subject to arrest. Plain and simple. If you want to act as the press and report on it, you can do that. Until you start engaging with people and there’s problems, we will deal with it then and you’ll be subject to arrest.”
Yaghtin claims the police department intimidated, threatened and did not allow him to engage individuals in his capacity as a member of the press.
No set dollar amount is listed, but Yaghtin is seeking general damages. No court dates had been set at the time of this writing.
The Spokane Police Department did not comment since the lawsuit is active.
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