America was founded by Christians seeking the freedom to preach and practice their faith, as compelled by their conscience. By the 1630s, thousands of Puritans had fled to America seeking a land in which they could worship God without persecution, to speak freely about what the Bible says about good and evil; right and wrong; sin and righteousness.
Now, almost 400 years later, a street preacher in Oklahoma is facing possible jail time if he continues to do just that — speak his mind freely about his sincerely held religious beliefs. In fact, if all he does is share Bible verses, they still might lock him up.
Reporting on this developing story, the Christian Post explains that Rich Penkoski “faces the possibility of arrest if he protests the activities of an Oklahoma LGBT advocacy organization online or in person after being hit with a restraining order for posting about a lesbian couple’s church wedding ceremony on Facebook.”
In 2022, Penkoski, who runs an online organization called Warriors for Christ, began using his First Amendment freedoms of speech and religious expression to speak biblical truth about the sinful and immoral practices of a local church in Bartlesville that supports same-sex “marriage” and has even hosted drag queen shows with children in attendance.
In his posts, Penkoski shared verses like Romans 1:32, which states: “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.”
He also shared Matthew 18:6, which states: “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 response to Penkoski’s faithful proclamation of God’s Word, one of the homosexual couples who had been married in the local church sought a restraining order against him for “threatening” and “harassing” them.
Amazingly, this past 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,” according to Fox News.
Now, The Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit civil liberties organization that “defends individuals whose constitutional rights have been threatened or violated and educates the public on a wide spectrum of issues affecting their freedoms,” has taken up Penkoski’s case and is appealing to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
In an interview with CBN, John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, raised the alarm on the ramifications of this case, explaining,
“He can be put in jail, fined, taken away if he says anything in terms of Bible verses or anything dealing with these LGBT people that felt threatened by one of the Bible verses. He never approached anybody physically or contacted them directly. He just posted on social media.”
“This is a very important case. When he contacted me and I looked at the facts, I said, ‘Whoa. In America, by quoting Jesus Christ, you can get a five-year restraining order and put in jail if you speak about Jesus?’”
Indeed, the stakes in this case are very high. If the restraining order is allowed to stand, Penkoski could possibly be put in jail for simply posting Bible verses on Facebook.
Whitehead and Penkoski appear willing to fight this all the way, as they should. Whitehead says this is a unique and groundbreaking case, though not in a good way: “This is the first time I’ve actually seen somebody quoting Jesus Christ and that being considered a crime. Now the question is, are we gonna give into this or are we gonna fight it?”
While Christians are commanded to love all people, we know that doesn’t mean we must simply roll over when our rights are unjustly attacked. We see Paul exercise his own civil rights when he appeals to Caesar in Acts 25: 10-11:
“I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well. If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!”
As long as we have the First Amendment in America, Christians are legally free to speak their mind about any topic related to our religious beliefs — including the topic of homosexuality in churches and sexual immorality in the culture. Penkoski did nothing wrong, as Whitehead makes clear in his conversation with CBN, explaining that the street preacher “did not threaten anybody…he did not walk up to [them], he did not meet [them]. He did not point a finger. He just posted something on social.’”
Do you know where people get thrown in jail for their social media posts? In China. In Saudi Arabia. In Russia. Not in the United States of America — or so we always thought. Until now.
Christians across the country should track this case with great interest. Pray that Penkoski — and the truth — prevails.
Ronald Reagan once called America “the last best hope of man on earth” because of the freedom that could be found between our shining seas — freedom to live, to worship, and to speak freely without fear of government persecution.
Is the light of that last best hope fading in America’s heartland today? The future of this case will answer that question — one way or another.
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