BOISE – An Idaho judge sentenced two dozen gay-rights protesters arrested at the state Capitol this year and offered them this message: “I respect your courage in doing what you did.”
The protesters took part in “Add the 4 Words” demonstrations during this year’s session of the Idaho Legislature, standing silently, hands over their mouths, and refusing to leave until lawmakers agreed to hold a hearing on legislation to amend the Idaho Human Rights Act – or until they were arrested. No hearing was held.
The protesters want the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” added to the types of discrimination banned by the act. Lawmakers have refused to hold a hearing on the proposed legislation for the past nine years.
“What I appreciate about the approach you all took is the American tradition of civil disobedience,” Magistrate Judge Michael Oths told a packed courtroom. “We all disobey and then we take our consequences.”
In all, 109 people were arrested on 192 separate misdemeanor charges in the protests during this year’s legislative session. The final two dozen were sentenced Monday; all received community service hours and court costs, and some also received small fines, depending on how many times they were arrested.
Those who were arrested only once had their charges dismissed. Those with multiple arrests received 10 hours of community service per arrest, and for those with four or more arrests, fines of $10 per arrest. They also are liable for court costs that start at $152.50.
The repeated mass arrests cost the Idaho State Police about $24,000.
Jeffrey Brownson, one of 20 Boise attorneys who volunteered to represent the protesters for free, responded, “This isn’t a fiscal issue, your honor, this is a civil rights issue. We don’t look back at the 1960s, at the great protests, and think, ‘Gee, that cost a lot of money.’ We’re grateful.”
The state called legislative observer Fred Riggers, a 72-year-old who is legally blind, who testified that protesters blocked him and others in the Senate foyer during one protest, and kept him from accessing scheduled committee hearings in another. Prosecutors also read a statement from Idaho Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Sarah Jane McDonald that said the Legislature was disrupted by the protests and people were unable to do their jobs or access proceedings as a result.