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Preach somewhere else

1 Liberty Place wins suit to get group to move

A RELIGIOUS GROUP spewing what the owners of One Liberty Place called hate speech against women, whites and gays can no longer demonstrate immediately outside the building's entrance, a judge ruled yesterday.

The owners of the Center City building filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge. The group is frequently perched on street corners shouting at passers-by through bullhorns. Liberty Place Retail Associates, which owns the building, asked the state court to bar the group from gathering in front of the entrance to its 61-story tower at 16th and Chestnut streets.

Common Pleas Judge Ellen Ceisler ruled that the sidewalk area adjacent to One Liberty Place, where the group gathered, is private property.

She said the group could gather in the public sidewalk space that is not immediately next to the building, so long as it did not impede pedestrian access. If the group wants to set up a stage or use a megaphone, it will need to get a permit from the city.

"Whatever we have to do, we'll do," Israelite School member Kory Travis said in court. "Whatever is legal, we want to do it."

The group is a nonprofit based at 46th and Market streets in West Philadelphia.

Ceisler's ruling came after an attorney for Liberty Place sought an injunction asking the court to prohibit the group from gathering at the entrance to The Shops at Liberty Place, a 150,000-square-foot, 60-shop retail center and food court within One Liberty Place.

The lawsuit claimed that since November 2012, the group has met on Friday afternoons near the building's entrance, using a loudspeaker to "take turns preaching hate toward whites, homosexuals and women."

The group would erect a platform, usually in front of the window at the Kiehl's store within the center.

"The Israelite demonstrations are highly offensive to many of the patrons and retail tenants of The Shops," the lawsuit stated. "The demonstrations negatively impact the shopping experience that The Shops and individual tenants attempt to create for customers."

Jill Scarlett, retail manager for the Shops at Liberty Place, said in court that organizations wanting to set up outside the shops must provide a certificate of insurance, sign a waiver and sometimes pay a fee.

Ceisler said she was convinced the area immediately outside the shops was private property, and Liberty Place hadn't created special regulations to prevent the group from demonstrating there.

She said the group was entitled to convey its messages on a public sidewalk, but couldn't restrict pedestrian access with its full-fledged demonstration.

"If you want to stay there, you have to limit it," she said.

Travis said his group began gathering at 16th and Chestnut streets when other groups started using preferred locations, like 15th and Market streets, which has more space to accommodate both organizations and passers-by.

Ceisler said her ruling was based on infringements to private property and hazards to pedestrians, not the group's messages.

The suit gathered videos of the Israelite members, posted on their own website, shouting statements such as:

* "You hate the white man? Well, so do I."

* "Everybody knows that a white man will kill a baby on any day."

* "A man putting his rod inside a woman is marriage according to the Bible."

* "A woman need to shut her damn mouth."

* "You black women have been a terrorist to black men . . . and it's about time you mouth get shut."

The most recent demonstration occurred May 17.