ASHLAND — The repeated, visible presence at public events here by Christian activists — expressing deep concern over abortion or other activities they consider sinful — continues to draw opposition, and it happened again at the city’s Independence Day events.
As reported by the Ashland Tidings newspaper, members of an evangelistic group called the RV (Rogue Valley) Saltshakers, which have been banned from an annual late fall parade in the city, had received approval to participate in the Fourth of July Parade under the name of a Roseburg outreach, Community Outreach Evangelism — or C.O.R.E., led by Mason Goodknight. But the Ashland Chamber of Commerce, sponsor of the parades, made its OK conditional on the group not putting graphic images of abortion on their signs.
While the group followed the rules during the Independence Day parade, however, members then exercised their free speech rights in Lithia Park by raising signs with graphic images at a street fair there that followed the parade, the newspaper reported.
That sparked into action a woman named Rianna S., who asked that the newspaper not publish her full name for fear that she would be targeted. She not only organized a group of people to stand in support of Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, but also raised what she claimed was more than $3,100 for that organization — far more than her goal of $2,000.
It was the second consecutive year that the woman raised money on July 4 for Planned Parenthood. She said that at last year’s Fourth of July Parade she became so upset over the abortion opponents’ demonstration that she turned a piece of cardboard into a sign that read “Donate to Planned Parenthood today.”
She encouraged online giving, but then people started giving her cash and she raised $1,100 that day, all of which was donated to the local Planned Parenthood facility.
The woman said many people were upset over the signs, and she wanted to offer a response that would do more than just express anger at the Christian activists. She said she considers the services provided by Planned Parenthood to be crucial.
It was concern over signs that prompted the Ashland Chamber to ban the RV Saltshakers and a related group called Marching for Jesus from future Festival of Light parades, held each November. When last November’s parade took place, a sign they carried not only offended some spectators but was deemed by some as hateful, even though the groups insisted they were trying to communicate the absolute opposite of hatred.
That sign read:
“Our lies, hate, theft, greed, lust, porn, fornication, LGBTQ, abortion and all other sin earn death and hell. Trust Jesus! Be Saved!”
While acknowledging that the sign did not really constitute hate speech, the Ashland newspaper editorialized last fall that the Ashland Chamber was right to ban Marching for Jesus from future parades because parade rules expressly forbid any message that is insulting or offensive to any identifiable group or individual.
Jon Clement of Grants Pass, an RV Saltshakers organizer, says his group’s intention is simply to share the Gospel at the public events. He told the Ashland newspaper last month that his group displays graphic images to educate the public that abortion is nothing less than the murder of children and is completely contrary to Scripture and to God’s will. He compared the images to graphic depictions about slavery and the Holocaust.
In a later interview with Christian News Northwest, Clement claimed that some of those opposing his group’s presence at the July 4 street fair pushed at them and tried to grab their signs, but were halted by security personnel.
He said his group only uses the graphic images at selected events, and that while they are strongly objected to by some, they “also have a great effect. They really draw people into conversation. We talked with people for about three hours, sharing the gospel.”