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County grants group permission to protest anti-gay pastor

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NEWTON, NC (WBTV) -

A group planning to protest a controversial pastor's sermon on homosexuality said it would protest whether or not the county grants the group a permit, according to the group's organizer.

However, WBTV News learned Thursday night that the Catawba County courts reconsidered the request and granted Catawba Valley Citizens Against Hate's request to hold its protest on courthouse grounds.

The group said hundreds of people had signed up to protest after Pastor Charles Worley of the Providence Road Baptist Church in Maiden suggested that lesbians and homosexuals be placed behind an electrified fence until they "die off."

"I had a way... I figured a way out - a way to get rid of all the lesbians and queers - but I couldn't get it past the Congress," he said during a sermon.

"Build a great big, large fence - 50 or a 100 miles long - and put all the lesbians in there. Fly over and drop some food. Do the same thing with the queers and the homosexuals - and have that fence electrified so they can't get out. Feed 'em. And you know in a few years, they'll die out. You know why? They can't reproduce."

The protest is scheduled to be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the lawn of the Catawba County Justice Center in Newton, NC.

County officials initially denied the group's request to protest, because proper paperwork hadn't been filled out for a protest. Officials told WBTV the organizer, Laura Tipton, did not formally apply for a permit - she emailed a request.

Catawba Valley Citizens Against Hate formally filled out an application on Thursday before noon.

"Catawba County has always striven to uphold the First Amendment rights of free speech and peaceable assembly," a statement from the county said on Thursday night. "After receiving [Tipton's] application today, the County consulted with constitutional law experts. Following significant discussion and analysis, and in the interest of demonstrating appropriate respect for the ideals embedded in the Constitution, Catawba County has chosen to grant permission for the assembly this Sunday."

The County says it plans to re-examine the existing regulations to revise the ordinance to find a balance between community interest and first amendment freedoms.

Tipton told WBTV on Wednesday that she met with Catawba County Sheriff Coy Reid Wednesday afternoon to discuss protest details. Since she began organizing the protest she says more than a thousand people have indicated they would come.

"I never thought it would get this big when I started," she said.

Originally the protest was scheduled for Sunday morning outside the church in Maiden but with a thousand or more people expected Tipton said there was not enough room on the public right of way outside the church to hold the event.

That's when she requested to hold the protest on Sunday.

"It is secure and there is plenty of parking and room for everyone."

The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation (ACLU-NCLF) sent WBTV a statement on Thursday night saying the County reversed it's decision "following a day of negotiations."

After originally being denied access, the Catawba Valley Citizens Against Hate contacted the ACLU-NCLF for legal assistance.

"We're very glad the county decided to do the right thing," said Chris Brook, Legal Director of the ACLU-NCLF. "This decision shows Catawba County officials take the First Amendment rights of their citizens very seriously, and we appreciate their willingness to accommodate citizens wishing to peacefully express their views on public grounds."

Tipton said the group was pleased that Catawba County honored the group's First Amendment rights and to "take a stand against the hateful rhetoric from Pastor Worley."

"We are truly thankful to the ACLU of North Carolina for standing with us to ensure that our voices can be heard," Tipton said.

Charles Worley still has not surfaced for public comment but members of his congregation continue to stand behind him. Wednesday night, dozens of supporters joined Worley for a special sermon.

"He just tells it like it is," said Stacey Pritchard who says she has been a member of the congregation for most of her life.

Pritchard said Worley is only telling people what the bible says about homosexuality.

"He just wants people to be saved," she said.

As for news that more than a thousand people could show up in Catawba County to protest against her pastor she replied "Let them come."

The Catawba citizens group is asking everyone who comes out to plan for the heat. They suggested that demonstrators bring water and wear hats.

For more information on the Catawba Citizens Against Hate visit their Facebook page.

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