Pastor Afshin Yaghtin of New Covenant Baptist Church in Spokane, Washington, won a court case on Thursday after the judge ruled that his presence at a Drag Queen Story Hour (DQSH) did not threaten or endanger anyone attending the event.
Over Father’s Day Weekend, Yaghtin visited a public library in Spokane, WA, to observe Drag Queen Story Hour. According to the organization’s website, “DQSH captures the imagination and play of the gender fluidity of childhood and gives kids glamorous, positive, and unabashedly queer role models.”
Local authorities had set up two designated areas for protestors and advocates to peacefully gather during the event. Yaghtin, who did not participate in the protests, stood on a tiny strip of grass in the library’s parking lot merely observing the experience.
According to local police, Yaghtin was apprehended for “trying to enter the non-designated protest area” along with “obstructing a law enforcement officer” after he refused to enter the designated protest areas across the street.
On Thursday, Washington Judge Tracy A. Stabb dismissed the charges against Yaghtin, claiming that he did not pose a threat to the city:
“While the City’s interest in protecting public safety is significant, there is no evidence that Mr. Yaghtin’s mere presence on public property was in any way jeopardizing the City’s interest. Mr. Yaghtin had every right to be standing on public property. He was not blocking traffic and was not conveying any kind of message that might incite a response. He was not being disorderly, disruptive, or aggressive.”
Judge Stabb would later confirm that the piece of grass that Yaghtin was standing on was not off-limits to the general public. In fact, she believed that the officer’s actions were influenced by other “persons who manifested a certain belief regardless of whether that belief was being conveyed to the public.”
According to attorney Jorge Ramos of the Pacific Justice Institute, who represented Yaghtin, “The judge’s ruling is an enormous victory for the freedom of conscience. We are thankful justice prevailed and Pastor Yaghtin can continue to shepherd his community with confidence.”
Ramos believed the state prosecutors failed to present a viable case. “The prosecution refused to acknowledge law enforcement’s overreach by separating and even barring people from entry into the library based on their views.”