As a lawsuit filed by a number of Oregon churches and churchgoers challenging Gov. Kate Brown's COVID-19 restrictions winds its way through the court system, Portland's city council agreed Wednesday to pay one of that case's plaintiffs $50,000 to settle a separate suit.
In addition to being a plaintiff in the high-profile lawsuit, preacher Mark Mayberry was the sole plaintiff in a lawsuit filed last October, which alleges he was unjustly kicked out of Tom McCall Waterfront Park for preaching anti-abortion rhetoric.
Mayberry's attorney, Ray Hacke, is also the lead attorney for the church lawsuit challenging Brown's orders.
The more recent suit was filed on behalf of a number of churches and individuals including Mayberry. It argues Brown's restrictions during the pandemic exceeded her authority. In response to the suit, a Baker County Circuit Court issued a temporary injunction against the governor's orders and for a chaotic few hours Brown's restrictions on businesses and social gatherings were suspended.
Months before the suit challenging the statewide order, Hacke, an attorney with the Pacific Justice Institute, which specializes in cases related to religious freedom, filed a suit challenging the orders of a lone Portland park ranger.
According to the complaint, Mayberry, a Christian evangelist and anti-abortion activist, was preaching at Portland's Waterfront Park last June with an anti-abortion sign and passing out gospel tracts. The views expressed, according to the filing, were "undoubtedly controversial to some," but his conduct was "civil, peaceful, and by no means incendiary."
An officer with the city’s park bureau ordered Mayberry to leave. He refused.
The officer issued him a citation that dictated he couldn't return to the park for a month, according to the filings. In the lawsuit, Mayberry alleged the action violated his freedom of speech and religion and sought more than $307,000 in damages.
During a vote on the settlement agreement this Wednesday, Randy Stenquist, the city's general and fleet liability manager, told the council the city believes Mayberry's rights were violated, as a previous injunction issued by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals specifically allowed evangelical Christian preachers to espouse their views at Waterfront Park. The council unanimously voted to pay the $50,000.
Hacke said he sees similarities between the two cases — people in power showing "extreme hostility" towards people of faith. The only difference, he said, is the scale: In the case against the city, it was an action that oppressed one person. In the case against Brown, he sees an entire state infringing on the people's right of religion freedom.
"That's the only real difference," he said. "One is a microcosm of another."
Asked if he worried filing two lawsuits with the same plaintiff risked weakening his case, he pointed out he had a third case involving Mayberry. He's representing the preacher along with several other individuals associated with anti-abortion group Abolish Abortion Oregon, who are suing the city of Grants Pass. The suit alleges the city's law enforcement officers routinely harass members as they preach their anti-abortion message.
"Because people of faith seem to be targeted at different levels of government in Oregon, it is possible for somebody to be victimized multiple times," he said, noting this was especially true of Mayberry, who travels around the state. "It's possible for him to be victimized multiple times in multiple places and Kate Brown violated his rights on top of that."
In Portland, Stenquist told the council Wednesday the city has taken actions to ensure a similar situation doesn't play out once again. In light of the incident, he said, the city has made changes to training for both the Portland Parks Bureau and the Portland Police Bureau.
"I'll see if they hold true to that," said Mayberry, reached by phone after the council vote.
Mayberry, who lives in Riddle, said he makes the 200-mile trip to Portland yearly to preach, usually during the Rose Festival when the crowds are big. He plans to return once COVID-19 restrictions lift.
And if he finds the training didn't work?
"I was merciful with them in only settling for $50,000 in the agreement," he said. "... If it happens again, it'll definitely be a lawsuit, and it'll definitely be worse consequences for the city."