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Boise police can’t charge pastor who said LGBTQ people are ‘worthy of death’

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BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — The Boise Police Department does not plan to pursue criminal action against the local pastor of a small Baptist church who told his congregation that God wants to “put all queers to death.”

Spokesperson Haley Williams told the Idaho Statesman that police are unable to charge him with a crime. Despite the department acknowledging pastor Joe Jones’ comments were “hateful and harmful,” Williams said the sermon didn’t “meet the criteria of criminal hate speech or what’s known as malicious harassment.”

“When they die, that stops the pedophilia,” Jones said during his May 11 sermon at Shield of Faith Baptist Church. “It’s a very, very simple process. … These people know that they’re worthy of death.”

When asked why Jones’ rhetoric failed to qualify as malicious harassment, Williams directed the Statesman to Idaho state law. The statute outlines malicious harassment as the “intent to intimidate or harass another person because of that person’s race, color, religion, ancestry, or national origin.” The definition excludes sexual orientation or gender identity.

Williams also said Jones’ harassment was not directed toward a specific person.

RELATED | Ahead of Pride Month, Idaho pastor says LGBTQ people deserve death penalty

“BPD will still do what we can to protect those who are targeted because of their sexual orientation and gender identity and investigate the crimes against them and hold people accountable,” Williams said in an email.

But she encouraged members of the public to contact Boise police even if people “don’t think it fits the definition” of harassment.

“Any form of hateful speech, whether verbal, written, or symbolic, against the LGBTQIA+ community is inconsistent with the city’s mission of creating a city for everyone,” Williams said. “The Boise Police Department will always protect someone regardless of their race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, or sexual orientation and gender identity.”

The Boise Police Department has an LGBTQ+ liaison officer, Williams said, who works to “support, connect and build trust” within the community. She added that in the last week, they have had numerous conversations with community leaders.

Boise Mayor Lauren McLean posted on Twitter that Idaho’s LGBTQ+ community has been “bombarded with harassment and threats of violence” over the last week.

“The city of Boise stands with our LGBTQ+ community here and around the state, and we will continue to stand up and stare down extremism and hateful speech,” McLean said.

State Sen. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, tried to amend Idaho’s malicious harassment statute, commonly referred to as the state’s hate crime law, by adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the code in 2017. The legislation was inspired by Steven Nelson, a 49-year-old Idaho man who was brutally murdered for being gay. The amendment never got a hearing.

“I felt it was essential to put it there,” Wintrow told the Statesman about amending the statue. “It sends a message about what we value and it’s that we value you as community members.”

Wintrow said that harassing someone specifically because of their sexual orientation or gender identity is “one of the most violent things you can do,” since being a part of the LGBTQ+ community is a large part of a person’s identity.

ANONYMOUS DONOR PAYS TO REPLACE PRIDE FLAGS

The local pastor’s hateful rhetoric is just one of the recent attacks against LGBTQ+ Idahoans.

Just last week, Pride flags were stolen from Harrison Boulevard — for the second year in a row. But Boise Pride tweeted that an anonymous donor covered the costs to replace the 35 missing or damaged flags, and on Saturday volunteers helped decorate the boulevard with colorful flags again.

On the same day Pride flags were being replaced in the North End, 31 masked members of a white nationalist group were arrested on suspicion of conspiring to riot at a Pride event in North Idaho. The Patriot Front’s arrests made national news, putting Idaho in the spotlight.

Boise Pride executive director Donald Williamson told the Statesman the recent actions against the LGBTQ+ community are “not new.”

“The LGBTQA+ has seen and experienced this kind of rhetoric and hate speech and these behaviors for decades,” Williamson said. “But they consistently persist. They continue to show up and represent at Pride events and festivals throughout the year.”

Williamson said the past week’s events are all the more reason Pride celebrations are still needed. Boise Pride is planned for the second weekend of September, according to the organization’s website.

“It’s also a great opportunity, though, for allies of this community to stand up and show their support,” Williamson said.

He added that some of the volunteers who helped replace Pride Flags in the North End were allies “that stepped up and said that wasn’t right.”

IDAHO FAITH, DEMOCRATIC LEADERS CONDEMN COMMENTS

Religious and Democratic leaders have spoken out against the recent headlines and condemned the actions of Jones, members of the Patriot Front and the unidentified thief of the Pride flags.

Father Joseph Farnes, an openly gay man and priest of All Saints Episcopal Church in Boise, was one of the 28 faith leaders to sign a statement in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community that called Jones’ comments “contemptible” and “disgusting.”

“To our fellow humans, especially LGBTQIA+ people, know that you are loved, that you are worthwhile, that you have sacred dignity. Hold that close to heart. Never, ever forget it,” faith leaders said in the statement. “We understand that some faith leaders have different interpretations of Scripture; we can discuss, dialogue, and disagree all day long. But dehumanizing language is reprehensible.”

Farnes told the Statesman by phone that the recent unsuccessful legislation against transgender Idahoans — attempting to ban gender-affirming care for kids — and the attacks have given certain people permission to unlock their “violent urges.”

“Rhetoric has consequences,” Farnes said. “When people use such terrible language for human beings, then other people feel free to use violence against them or they think that acts of violence are acceptable.”

House Assistant Minority Leader Lauren Necochea, D-Boise, who chairs the Idaho Democratic Party, said in a Monday statement that she was “horrified and angered” by the recent attacks.

She said it was “past time” to add the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the Idaho Human Rights Act to protect the LGBTQ+ community from discrimination. The act currently protects Idahoans from being discriminated against on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin or disability.

Idaho Democratic lawmakers have been trying to “add the words” for the past 14 legislative sessions to no avail. In January, Rep. John McCrostie, D-Garden City, introduced the bill again. The bill didn’t get a hearing.

“In the face of hateful rhetoric and extremism, Idaho Democrats are not intimidated, we are resolute. We will fight for the right of every Idahoan to be proud, love openly, and live authentically,” Necochea said.

Farnes said while he and Jones “disagree very deeply” on religion, he said he hopes that Jones can see him as a human being and “a fellow Christian.”

“The message that people keep hearing is that, ‘You’re not lovable, that you’re not cared about,’ and that’s anathema to me as a Christian what I stand for,” Farnes said. “I do believe that God is love and that God loves all people.”

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