June 9 2010 12:00 AM

Suit against Bash Back! temporarily on hold while group looks for a new attorney


It has been more than a year since an Arizona-based Christian legal defense fund sued the “radical queer” Lansing activist group Bash Back! for a 2008 protest at a Delta Township church, but the case is not close to being resolved, and City Pulse has been subpoenaed for records relating to coverage of the protest.

In November 2008, while a group of protesters picketed outside the church, a group of Bash Back! members dressed as parishioners infiltrated a Sunday service at Mount Hope Church, interrupting it. The infiltrators displayed pro-gay signs and threw around glitter, frightening some parishioners and garnering national media attention.

Then in May 2009, the Scottsdale -based Alliance Defense Fund filed suit against Bash Back! under the federal Freedom of Access to Clinics Entrances Act. The act, signed into law under Bill Clinton, mainly protects entrances to abortion clinics, but also includes a section prohibiting blocking the entrance of places of worship.

Andy, head of the Lansing chapter of Bash Back!, who does not further identify himself, said that a pro-bono attorney the group retained last year has left the case for a job in the court system, and the activists are looking for new representation. The Lansing chapter — one of several Bash Back! chapters around the U.S. — has been footing any costs related to its defense, and is trying to raise money. The suit is in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan in Grand Rapids, and a judge has put the suit on hold while the protesters find a new attorney.

“I think people are almost afraid to jump into something so big — even thought the judge has said they’d give proper time for counsel to catch up,” he said, referring to the amount of legal work that has been done since the suit was filed.

The activists have started a website, Mount Hope Infinity, which refers to some 20 John and Jane Does that have been named as defendants but have not been revealed. Bash Back! is seeking donations through the site and is asking that supporters plan a fundraiser on July 17 and donate proceeds to their legal defense fund.

In April, City Pulse was served with a subpoena by Alliance Defense Fund attorney Dale Schowengerdt for “all documents, pictures, video, email, correspondence of any kind, text messages, audio records, or other tangible things in your or City Pulse possession (sic)” related to the Mount Hope incident. A City Pulse reporter was outside Mount Hope Church when Bash Back! carried out its action.

City Pulse attorney Donald Cataldo has supplied the ADF with all publicly available materials, but has refused to give them information used in producing the story, such as e-mails. The ADF could file a motion to compel City Pulse to give up those documents, but has not done so. Cataldo said that no City Pulse employees appear on witness lists or are scheduled to be deposed as part of the suit.

Details magazine, which carried a story on Bash Back!, has apparently been similarly subpoenaed, according to a local Bash Back! member. The magazine would not comment.

The Alliance Defense Fund did not return a call seeking comment, and has previously refused to take our calls.