Philly judge orders religious protestors evicted from 'private property' outside One Liberty Place

By Jon Campisi | May 29, 2013

A Philadelphia judge has ruled in favor of the owners of one of Center City’s prominent

high-rise commercial buildings in its dispute with a group of protestors from an obscure religious group that one organization labels “extremist.”

Common Pleas Court Judge Ellen Ceisler, in a May 24 ruling, ordered that members of the Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge cease its rallies in front of One Liberty Place in downtown Philadelphia, according to court records.

Attorneys Jason P. Gosselin and Michael Metz-Topodas, of the firm Drinker Biddle & Reath, filed a petition seeking an emergency preliminary injunction on May 21 seeking to have the court immediately bar the defendants from continuing their weekly demonstrations in front of the large office building, which is home to retail shops, law firms, and other commercial enterprises.

The plaintiff in the case, Liberty Place Retail Associates LP, claimed that members of the religious group were trespassing because they were technically situated on private property when they conducted their weekly protests.

Ceisler, the judge, agreed, granting the plaintiff’s motion for an emergency injunction.

“The Court finds that defendant’s have been routinely and unlawfully conducting demonstrations on private property owned and operated by plaintiff, Liberty Place Retail Associates L.P., and that plaintiff has sustained immediate and irreparable injury, and will continue to do so, if a preliminary injunction is not issued, and that all other requirements for the grant of preliminary injunctive relief have been established by plaintiff …,” Ceisler wrote.

The judge further wrote that the group could continue its demonstrations on the nearby public sidewalk, as long as it doesn’t impede the flow of pedestrian and vehicular traffic.

The Pennsylvania-based Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge is part of a movement dubbed “Hebrew Israelism,” which considers American blacks as descendants of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, according to a Wikipedia page on the group, which has been labeled an “extremist” and “black supremacist” organization by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Hebrew Israelism itself is a movement rooted in Black Judaism, which dates back to the late 1800s, and includes the belief that America’s emancipated former black slaves were God’s chosen people, and therefore the “true” Hebrews, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist organizations across the country.

The group officially became known as the Israelite Church of Universal Practical Knowledge in the 1980s, the SPLC has reported.

The Philadelphia Inquirer recently reported that the group’s members had been regularly spewing “hate speech against women, whites and gays” during their demonstrations in downtown Philadelphia.

In their lawsuit, the plaintiff claimed that since this past winter, the group’s members have been setting up shop directly in front of One Liberty Place, which houses retail stores and offices.

The protesters would often hurl offensive remarks toward the building’s patrons and tenants through the use of a bullhorn, the court petition claimed.

The group can be seen spreading its messages on videos posted to the website Youtube.

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