A religious group spewing what the owners of One Liberty Place call hate speech against women, whites and gays can no longer demonstrate immediately outside the building's entrance at 16th and Chestnut Streets, a judge ruled today.
The owners of One Liberty Place in Center City Philadelphia filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge. The group is frequently seen perched on Center City street corners shouting at passersby through bullhorns. Liberty Place Retail Associates, which owns the building, has 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.
Court of Common Pleas Judge Ellen Ceisler ruled this morning that the sidewalk area adjacent to One Liberty Place, where the group had been gathering, 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 Israelite group wants to set up a large stage or use a megaphone, it will need to get a permit from the city managing director's office.
"Whatever we have to do, we'll do," Israelite School member Kory Travis said in court. "Whatever is legal, we want to do it."
After the hearing, he said he didn't know if the group would have any presence at 16th and Chestnut this Friday.
The group is a nonprofit based at 46th and Market Streets in West Philadelphia.
Ceisler's ruling came after an attorney for Liberty Place, Jason Gosselin, with Drinker, Biddle and Reath, sought an injunction today asking a state 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 filed in state court claims that since November 2012 the group has met on Friday afternoons near its 16th and Chestnut Street entrance, using a loudspeaker to "take turns preaching hate toward whites, homosexuals and women."
The group erects a platform, usually directly in front of the window at Kiehl's, a skin care product store, within the center.
"The Israelite demonstrations are highly offensive to many of the patrons and retail tenants of The Shops," the lawsuit states. "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 Israelite School 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 after preferred locations -- like 15th and Market streets, which has more space to accommodate both organizations and passersby -- were being used by other groups.
According the suit, 15,000 people pass through the 16th Street entrance where the group has made inflammatory statements, though Ceisler said her rulings were based on infringements to private property and hazards to pedestrians, not the group's messages. Six to 10 African Americans dressed in black robes typically join in the demonstrations and hold bullhorns.
The suit gathered videos of the Israelite members, posted on their own website, shouting statements such as:
The most recent demonstration occurred May 17.