Street preacher threatened with jail time after citing Bible verses against local Oklahoma LGBTQ organization
By Jon Brown
An outspoken street preacher is appealing to the Oklahoma Supreme Court after he was slapped with a five-year restraining order that threatened him with jail time if he speaks out in opposition against a local LGBTQ advocacy group.
Rich Penkoski, a pastor who heads up the online organization Warriors for Christ and has protested drag shows for children nationwide, told Fox News Digital that he believes the restraining order is unconstitutional and could herald a legal precedent that could chill the speech of Christians and others.
“I’ve been preaching against this kind of stuff for years when it first started in libraries,” he said of drag queen story time for children. “We’ve been telling people it’s going to get worse if we don’t do anything, and that’s where we are.”
Penkoski said he was invited by a church in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, to preach outside a local Pride event last fall after other local churches failed to speak out against it.
Penkoski also posted a public photo of the same-sex wedding of Sheena Hayes and Morgan Lawrence-Hayes, who is the executive board president of the Bartlesville chapter of Oklahomans for Equality, according to the Christian Post.
In his post, Penkoski referenced Bible verses condemning homosexuality, including Romans 1:32 – “and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.”
The pastor also cited Matthew 18:6, which quotes Jesus saying that “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”
In a police report filed by an officer with ties to Oklahomans for Equality in Bartlesville, the couple felt threatened and harassed by Penkoski’s social media posts, according to local outlet V1SUT. The report claimed he made references to bestiality during a sermon at the Pride event, which he denies.
In February, Washington County District Court Judge Linda Thomas granted the couple a five-year protective order against Penkoski after they claimed they felt unsafe in Bartlesville because of the pastor, according to the Rutherford Institute.
Oklahomans for Equality did not respond to Fox News Digital’s request for comment.
Penkoski made two additional posts in which he expressed his disapproval of several Pride events in Bartlesville. In one post, he criticized local Disciples Christian Church for sharing photos of children celebrating Pride Month last June.
In the other post, he aimed to disprove a statement made by Lawrence-Hayes claiming during a City Council meeting that no adult-oriented entertainment, obscenity or sexually suggestive performances took place at the Pride event, which Penkoski maintained to be false.
Penkoski, who has a sizable social media following, said he posted a video of the leader’s statement intercut with footage of a drag queen near children during the Pride event. The video, which showed “a drag queen grabbing his crotch and gyrating it in front of children,” was pulled from both Facebook and YouTube for being obscene, he said.
Penkoski, who has children ranging from 3 years old to 20, said he “felt moved by God” to oppose drag events involving children. He said he has received multiple death threats and that his property has been vandalized during his legal battle with the LGBTQ group.
John Whitehead, a constitutional attorney and president of the Charlottesville, Virginia-based Rutherford Institute that is representing Penkoski, told Fox News Digital that the pastor’s case “is definitely about free speech.” They argue that the restraining order against Penkoski is “vague and overly broad.”
Whitehead said the Rutherford Institute, which represented Paula Jones in her sexual harassment claim against former President Bill Clinton, took on Penkoski’s case because they believe it could set a dangerous precedent that could chill the speech of Christians or anyone else who publicly opposes LGBTQ ideology.
“I think what we’re saying is that citing a Bible verse could be a crime at a certain point in the United States,” the attorney said.
Both Penkoski and Whitehead told Fox News Digital that his case is likely the first of its kind.
“Other Christians have messaged me, and they said as far as we can tell, you are the first Christian in America to be threatened with jail for posting Bible verses critical of same-sex marriage or drag shows,” Penkoski said.
Whitehead, who founded the Rutherford Institute in 1982, said Penkoski never threatened violence against his accusers and that Penkoski’s case is symptomatic of eroding freedoms in the U.S.
“The First Amendment is the sole savior of America, and what I’m seeing in America today with all the wokeness and political correctness is that people are afraid to speak,” Whitehead said.
“Free speech is so important. It raises critical thinking and makes people think and maybe reconsider some of the things they’re doing, so I think people like Richard Penkoski are very, very important in our society,” he added.
Whitehead said that if Penkoski fails in his appeal, the First Amendment is “dead,” which he believes “would open [the] door for persecution, obviously.”
“He quotes what Jesus Christ says, OK? If that’s a crime, then we’re in a bad state in this country,” he added.