Several African American pastors are headed to California to attend the sentencing of Walter Hoye, a black pastor in Berkeley who could face up to two years in jail for sharing a pro-life message in front of an abortion clinic.
In January, Hoye was found guilty of two misdemeanor counts of violating an ordinance in Oakland that makes it unlawful to approach within eight feet of patients or staff accompanying women entering abortion clinics without their consent.
Hoye was arrested on May 13, 2008, in front of the Family Planning Specialists clinic in Oakland. He was carrying a sign that read, "Jesus loves you and your baby. Let us help," and asking, "Can I talk to you for a minute about abortion alternatives?"
He is scheduled to receive his sentence on Thursday, Feb. 19, and could face up to years in prison and/or $4,000 in fines.
The black pastors coming to provide moral support to Hoye say he was wrongfully convicted.
"We're coming here because black pastors and bishops around this country are just learning of Walter's fate and to silence the Gospel is unacceptable. It violates the freedom of speech of every Christian in this nation," said Rev. Johnny Hunter, president of Life Education And Resources Network (LEARN), a prominent African American pro-life organization with members in 27 states.
"We see brother Hoye standing for life and we ought to stand with him," added Dr. Levon Yuille, president of the National Black Pro-Life Congress.
During the trial, clinic director Jackie Barbic testified that Hoye intimidated clinic staff and several women entering the clinic. She also claimed that when she went outside with a measuring tape to show Hoye what eight feet looks like, the pastor physically intimidated her as he walked toward her, compelling her to shout in defense, "Stay away from me! Back down! Back away!"
But a video tape of the encounter, presented at trial by Hoye's defense the Life Legal Defense Foundation, contradicted Barbic's testimony. The video showed a clinic escort approaching Rev. Hoye and pointing a tape measure at him and Rev. Hoye not moving an inch.
In the video, Barbic can be seen lecturing him, and then talking to others. Hoye moved away. A few minutes later, the same scene plays out again, with Barbic again pointing the tape measure at Hoye, and him moving down the sidewalk in a different direction. The video was taped by Hoye's friend from across the street.
While charges of harassment were dropped, the jury rendered the guilty verdict on the two "unlawful approach" charges.
The conviction was called "a miscarriage of justice" by LLDF attorney Allison Aranda, who represented Hoye in the case.
Hoye, who attends Progressive Missionary Baptist Church of Berkeley, is the founder of the Issues4Life Foundation and an outspoken opponent of what he calls the genocide of unborn African Americans.
Recent statistics show that abortion disproportionately affects black women.
Around 37 percent of pregnancies for black women ended in abortion, compared to 12 percent for non-Hispanic white women and 19 percent for Hispanic women in 2004, according to an April 2008 report by the National Center for Health Statistics, a division of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In 2004, 453,000 black babies were aborted while 418,000 white and 269,000 Hispanic babies were aborted, according to the federal report.
A Sept. 2008 report released by Guttmacher Institute, a research organization associated with Planned Parenthood Federation of America, showed that black women were four times more likely than white women to have an abortion.
"This is a deliberate attempt to silence the Church and its prophetic role in protecting the innocent lives in our community and especially Black babies," said Pastor Stephen Broden of Dallas, Texas.
"Pastor Hoye represents a legacy of resistance by Black preachers to injustices perpetrated on the beloved community."
Hoye is also involved in a lawsuit that challenges Oakland's ordinance as a violation of constitutional free speech rights. A hearing will be held in March in federal district court.
In a newsletter in which he tells of his ordeal, Hoye said that while he is not able to demonstrate in front of abortion clinics in Oakland for now, he will continue to work toward the defeat of what he calls Oakland's "No Christ" zone.