Jen Epstein Ejected From Public Sidewalk For Exercising First Amendment Rights
I enjoy attending home school conferences. It’s always a good learning experience, so I’d like to give a report on a home school conference that I attended this past weekend in Arlington, Texas. The Arlington Book Fair is a large home school conference with several interesting speakers, one of which was Doug Phillips. I credit Doug with teaching me many valuable things. Douglas Winston Phillips was named after Douglas MacArthur and Winston Churchill. Doug does a very convincing Churchill impersonation. I’ve often heard Doug say, “We shall never surrender” in his best Churchill-ish British accent. Doug has taught me a lot of determination and courage in the face of adversity. If it weren’t for Doug’s own regular storytelling of brave and courageous men who refused to compromise their values, I doubt that I would have ever been motivated to go public with my own story of Doug’s ecclesiastical tyrannies. In many ways, it was Doug’s own teaching that gave me the courage to do what I’m now doing.
Attending the Arlington Book Fair was also an opportunity for me to speak with Doug Phillips personally and give him one more opportunity to be reconciled with us. Doug doesn’t make it easy to speak with him. He’s been hiding behind his attorney, Don Hart, for over a year now. Every time we’ve tried to speak with Doug, we’ve been told, “You’ll have to talk to Doug’s attorney.” This is a strange response for a pastor. We’ve never even implied that we wanted to take Doug to court. Ours is an ecclesiastical matter, so why is he hiding behind an attorney? Doug claims that Boerne Christian Assembly has a plurality of elders. If that were true then why doesn’t he say, “You’ll need to take it up with the BCA elders?” The fact is that BCA didn’t have a plurality of elders when Doug ran us through his little Kangaroo Court, and apparently they still don’t have a plurality of elders, although they do have some “elders-in-training.”
Not being one to throw the baby out with the bathwater, I thought I might be able to learn something from listening to Doug speak at the conference, as well. So, with much anticipation and hope that God would work to bring us together this weekend, off we went.
As we stepped through the door at the Arlington Book Fair, we immediately spotted Wesley Strackbein, a longtime Vision Forum employee, who straightaway pulled out his cell phone, presumably to call Doug Phillips. When we arrived, shortly thereafter, at Doug’s first workshop of the day, it quickly became apparent that this was the case. Doug was already on stage when I entered the room but, as I was helping my daughter get situated in her chair, Doug suddenly appeared in front of me, holding out his hand to greet me. “Hello, Jennifer. I thought I would see you here,” he spoke up loudly for everyone to hear. “Hi, Doug!,” I returned his greeting and handshake. As his personal assistants placed themselves strategically on either side of the room, we listened to Doug’s first message about the importance of teaching history to your children.
Concerned about the hypocrisy of Doug teaching his extra-biblical views and promoting them as biblical doctrine, I decided it would be a good time to warn others of some of Doug’s extreme positions. An independent Christian journal that focuses primarily on writing about cults has written an article about Doug Phillips and Vision Forum. They were kind enough to give me permission to pass out copies of this article at the convention. (When this article is officially released by the publisher, I will let everyone know.) So, at Doug’s second session of the day, Joshua began passing this article out to those who were attending this particular workshop for homeschooling fathers. After he had passed them out to approximately half the attendees, a conference coordinator approached him and asked him to stop, apparently in response to Bob Renaud’s request. While Joshua was speaking to this lady, Doug Phillips came by, put his hand on Joshua’s shoulder, and simply stated, “Joshua,” while smiling. When I arrived there a while later, two conference coordinators immediately approached me and asked if I was Joshua’s mother. When I answered affirmatively, Richard Hathman very kindly told me that they had a policy that no flyers could be handed out inside the convention center, but that we were perfectly free to hand them out on the public sidewalk outside the convention center. We were fine with this, so I thanked him kindly, shook his hand, and Joshua went outside to hand out flyers for a while.
Still waiting for an opportunity to speak with Doug Phillips, I went to his third workshop of the day, “The Blessed Marriage,” hoping to gain some insights into my own marriage as well. I sat in the front row by myself (my children had left the convention by this point) so that I could speak with Doug after his speech. In front of the raised stage was a large podium for the projector. I didn’t realize until later that since I was sitting very close to the podium, Doug would have had to walk within a few inches of me to get on stage. Apparently that was not an option for him, since he chose to take a flying leap onto the other end of the stage instead, in his 3-piece suit. It was obvious that he was doing everything he could to avoid me. This struck me as very odd, considering that earlier in the day he went out of his way to greet me. No doubt, though, someone had given him a copy of the article we’d been passing out. Perhaps this resulted in a change in his demeanor toward me?
One of Doug’s longtime personal assistants, Bob Renaud, decided that I must be very lonely in the front row by myself, so he came and sat with me, greeting me as if we were long lost best friends. It was obvious that it was his job to keep me away from Doug, but we exchanged pleasant greetings anyway. He seemed quite fascinated with all the notes I was taking during Doug’s seminar, craning his neck much of the time to read them. At the end of the message, after Doug Phillips invited everyone to come visit him and Beall in his Vision Forum booth, Bob immediately struck up a conversation with me that went like this:
Bob: “Jennifer, I’m so glad to see you here! Are you enjoying the conference?”
Me: “Yes, Bob, I am. I’m really glad to see you, too. Are you enjoying it?”
Bob: “Yes, I am.”
Me: “Bob, I know you are here to keep me from seeing Doug, but I would really like to see Doug; I would really like to talk to him.”
Bob: “I can’t let you do that.”
Me: “Why not?”
Bob: “If you want to talk, you’ll have to talk to Doug’s attorney, Don Hart. You can’t talk to Doug.”
Me: “This doesn’t have anything to do with Don Hart. I would like to talk to Doug personally. Look, Bob, I just have this letter I would like to give to Doug.” I held the letter out for him, but Bob quickly backed away. “Look, Bob, this is a nice letter. I just want to compliment Doug and ask him to speak with me.”
Bob: “I can’t let you do that.”
Me: “Here, Bob. I’ll even let you read it yourself first.” So I opened the letter for Bob, but he still refused to look at it or take it.
Me: “OK, Bob. Do you know why I’m here? Do you know what I’m about? Do you understand my whole purpose?”
Bob: “No, I don’t”
By this time, Wesley Strackbein, the Vision Forum employee who had first spotted me at the convention, had joined us as well, so I addressed both of them.
Me: “This is about reconciliation. This is about being at peace with my brothers and sisters in Christ. I can write about Doug on the internet, and he can write about me, but we aren’t getting anywhere at this rate. This is stupid. We need to sit down and talk.”
Bob: “Jennifer, you can put an end to all this.”
Me: “How’s that, Bob?”
Bob: “Jennifer, you just need to repent. You are excommunicated.”
Me: “What do I need to repent from?”
Bob: “You know what you need to repent from. It’s all in the document we gave you. You can read it.”
Me: “Oh, I know what the document says: gossip, slander, lying, reviling. But what have I done, Bob? What is my specific sin? That list doesn’t tell me what I’ve done.”
Bob: “I don’t have time to tell you all your sins, there are so many.”
Me: “OK, Bob and Wesley, I’ll tell you what. I’ll make you a deal. I promise you that if you can tell me just one example of a sin I’ve committed, I’ll repent right here and now.”
Bob and Wesley turned around and walked away. For being guilty of “so many” sins I was stunned that they couldn’t name even one specific sin.
Somewhere in that conversation, Bob asked me for that letter I had written to Doug. I gave it to him. Here is what the letter said:
May 11, 2007
Mr. Doug Phillips
200 Canada Verde
Hollywood Park, TX
I know that you’re a busy man, and no doubt you’ve got plenty going on here at the Arlington Book Fair home school convention. Hopefully you’ll accept this note from me.
I look forward to what I’ll learn here from the speakers at the conference, and that includes what I can learn from you. I’ve already learned a great deal from you Doug. Not that I’ve always agreed with all your opinions, but you’ve helped teach me some important values.
Doug, I’m confounded over why you keep avoiding us and why you’re refusing to be reconciled with us. Wouldn’t reconciliation be a good thing? It seems like you’re running from me. I can’t understand that. What are you afraid of?
I’d like to extend to you the opportunity to just sit down and talk together for a few minutes. Here at the conference would be an ideal time. I know you’re busy and you could use that as an excuse to avoid me. But I don’t believe that you’re so busy that you couldn’t set aside a few minutes. If it were important that’s really what you should do. This is important Doug, and I think you know that.
Let’s sit down and talk. Okay?
Your sister in the Lord Jesus Christ,
I knew that Bob Renaud would take my note straight to Doug. So I gave Doug sufficient time to receive my note from Bob and read it. Since Doug had issued an open invitation for everyone to come visit him at his booth, I decided to take him up on his invitation. With a friend carrying a video camera, we walked in to see Doug, but neither he nor Beall were at the Vision Forum booth. After looking around for them, we were just about to leave when Peter Bradrick, Doug’s personal assistant, came up and told us to turn off the video. I asked him what authority he had to tell us what to do. He said that we could video any other booth except Vision Forum. I kept asking him, “Under what authority?” I then asked him if he was asking us or telling us what to do. He said he was informing us. Finally, he spoke to me in a quite disrespectful tone of voice. Knowing that Doug Phillips’ main message is about honor, I rebuked Peter for speaking to his elders that way. I am nearly twice his age and my videotaping friend is a good deal older than I am as well. At this point, Peter’s attitude changed and he said he was requesting us to turn off our video, which we promptly did. I then asked Peter where Doug was, and he replied that he was ill and not able to greet his public right now, so we left.
Upon further reflection of this incident, I decided that while Peter was decidedly disrespectful toward me, two wrongs never make a right, and I had been too harsh in rebuking him. So I later sent him a note of apology.
Since I wasn’t getting anywhere in my attempts to speak with Doug Phillips, I decided that day two of this convention should be a day of warning others. I had the article written by the independent Christian journal and I also had the Public Notice Calling For The Repentance Of Douglas W. Phillips printed out as handouts. Joshua and I were standing on the public sidewalk handing out these flyers as people came into the conference when all of a sudden a very angry man shoved Joshua out of the way, grabbed his papers and started throwing the papers all over, yelling and screaming that we couldn’t do this. Very calmly and kindly, I responded, “Excuse me, but what are you doing?”
Dennis Winton, the very angry conference coordinator, continued to yell at us that we could not pass out these papers. I calmly stated that this was public property and that I was standing on my first amendment rights to hand out information on public property. Mr. Winton then threatened us, “We’ll see what the police have to say about your first amendment rights!” Still remaining calm, I said that was fine.
While Mr. Winton was on the phone speaking very heatedly with the police, trying to convince them that I was a criminal, another conference coordinator was standing there with him, watching us continue to cheerfully greet everyone as we handed them our papers. This man was Richard Hathman, the same kind conference coordinator who had, just the day before, volunteered that we could pass out these papers on the public sidewalk in front of the convention center. During this whole time, he just stood there smiling at us. After several minutes, I said to Mr. Hathman, “You know I have every right to do this. I am standing on my first amendment rights to hand out information on public property.”
He answered, “Yes, you do.”
I finally volunteered to Mr. Hathman that Doug Phillips could stop this whole thing if he would just come out and talk to me. I offered to stop passing out the papers if Doug would just sit down and talk to me.
Mr Hathman then said, “You may be 100% right, or you may be 100% wrong, or it’s maybe somewhere in between; I really don’t care. Mr. Phillips is just a tiny part of this conference. This is about so much more than just Doug Phillips and what you are doing here is disrupting our whole conference. As a brother in Christ, I would like to ask you to please stop disturbing this conference so everyone else can enjoy what they came here for.”
I was so impressed with the way Mr. Hathman handled the situation in a Christ-like manner that I told him as much, thanked him for his attitude, shook his hand, and stated that I would be glad to stop handing out my papers, since he asked me to do so out of Christian love and concern. At that point, Joshua and I picked up all our papers and took them to the truck.
Mr. Winton, however, still insisted that the police do something, so they came and talked to all the conference coordinators and Doug’s three “bodyguards” before coming over to speak with my friend, my children, and me. As you watch what happens next, notice Doug’s three bodyguards, Wesley Strackbein, Peter Bradrick, and Bob Renaud, ensuring that I leave the public property. We found out later that the police were called at Doug Phillips’ insistence. I was also later informed that the Vision Forum team had told the police that Doug Phillips was afraid because his life had been threatened, thereby implying that I posed some sort of physical threat to Doug.
While we were waiting, I then waved to Peter Bradrick and said, “Good morning, Peter!” He just glared back at me, so I said, cheerfully, “Come on, Peter. Can’t you even say ‘Hello?'” In response, he just slowly shook his head from side to side.
So then I tried to talk to Bob Renaud: “Hey, Bob! Do you have an answer for me yet?” (meaning from the letter I gave Bob to give Doug). I was treated to another frozen face.
So, in the end, we were issued a criminal trespassing warning for being on public property and told not to return for one year, under threat of arrest. The First Amendment gives us the right to give out this kind of information on public property, so there can be no criminal trespassing of this sort on public property. As a constitutional lawyer, Doug Phillips knew I had every right to be there doing what I was doing. As a conference speaker, though, Doug used his status to have my rights trampled.
I’m still calling Doug Phillips to repentance.