A federal judge yesterday found the leader of a Christian evangelical group guilty of violating a verbal permit and interfering with park rangers at National Independence Historical Park after a two-day bench trial.

Michael A. Marcavage, 28, of Lansdowne, director of Repent America, was fined $400 and sentenced to a year's probation.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Arnold C. Rapoport also ordered Marcavage not to demonstrate in the park without first notifying park authorities and applying for a permit.

"Welcome to the new America," Marcavage said outside the courtroom. "God help us. We're all headed for trouble if this is the direction the country is going in."

Defense lawyer C. Scott Shields, who promised an appeal to a district court judge, was more blunt, calling the verdict and sentence a "travesty of justice."

Shields said: "To engage in street evangelism next to the Liberty Bell and be convicted of the crime of violating a verbal permit is outrageous. This is crazy."

Marcavage was charged on Oct. 6, 2007, while he - accompanied by supporters carrying posters with images of dead fetuses - preached against abortion near both the entrance and exit of the Liberty Bell Center on 6th Street between Market and Chestnut.

Two park rangers advised Marcavage he was being issued a verbal permit and that he had to relocate to a grassy area on the opposite side of the Liberty Bell Center or across Market Street adjacent to the Independence Visitors Center.

Marcavage refused to obey at least two separate orders to move, saying he didn't need a permit and had a First Amendment right to preach on a public street.

Park rangers testified that the park has specifically excluded the 6th Street sidewalk between Chestnut and Market from areas open for public demonstrations and issues no permits for that area.

The Liberty Bell Center attracts 2 million visitors annually and officials say they have to keep the immediate area free of chokepoints that could endanger public safety in case of an emergency.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Rich Goldberg said after the verdict and sentence, "It's good to see the park's rules are applied equally to everybody, including Mr. Marcavage, who's not in control of the Liberty Bell." *