A Maryland-based church whose pastor is leading efforts to overturn D.C.’s same-sex marriage law is holding Sunday morning services at the E Street Cinema in downtown Washington, prompting some activists to call for a boycott of the theater.
In a little-noticed development, Hope Christian Church of Beltsville, Md., recently began holding weekly worship services at the theater at 8:30 a.m. A church employee told DC Agenda on Tuesday that its pastor, Bishop Harry Jackson, leads the weekly services at the theater, which is located at 11th and E streets, N.W.
The church’s web site says that it holds at least three additional Sunday morning services at its main facility on Ammendale Road in Beltsville.
Landmark Theaters, owners of E Street Cinema, told DC Agenda that it could not “refuse service” to the church and was obligated in this instance to rent space to Hope Christian Church.
“Landmark Theatres rents our auditoriums out to many different types of organizations and we do not have the right to refuse service to anyone based on their religious beliefs,” an unidentified spokesperson wrote Monday in an e-mail to DC Agenda.
Timothy Daniels, a gay D.C. resident, has called the statement unacceptable and created a Facebook group promoting the boycott of E Street Cinema.
In past years, E Street Cinema has served as one of the venues for Reel Affirmations, D.C.’s annual LGBT film festival. It remains known as a showcase for LGBT films and documentaries.
“Hope Christian Church is headed by Bishop Harry Jackson, a vehemently vocal opponent of the D.C. LGBT community,” Daniels says in his Facebook message.
Jackson has repeatedly attempted to overturn the same-sex marriage law that the D.C. City Council passed and Mayor Adrian Fenty signed. His attempts have been unsuccessful, and the marriage law is scheduled to take effect March 3, when Congress completes its review of the statute.
The city’s Board of Elections & Ethics has ruled three times that Jackson’s request for a ballot measure to put the law to voters cannot be held because, if approved, it would violate the D.C. Human Rights Act. The board’s decisions have been upheld by at least three D.C. Superior Court judges that have turned down Jackson’s appeals of the board’s rulings.
“[Jackson] continues to spread lies and falsehoods about gay marriage rights in the District,” Daniels says in his Facebook message. “We urge all of you that live in D.C. who regularly attend movies at E Street Cinema to cease patronizing their business, and instead [move to] contacting Landmark Theatres and expressing your strong disappointment at this blatant hypocrisy.”
But Rick Rosendall, vice president of the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance, said it would be a mistake to boycott or penalize E Street Cinema for renting space to Jackson’s church. He noted that he and other activists would likely speak out against a boycott.
“The E Street Cinema is a public accommodation and cannot discriminate on the basis of religion,” Rosendall said. “The same Human Rights Act that protects us protects Bishop Jackson and his followers.”
He said the strategy employed by GLAA and a coalition of other LGBT groups to oppose Jackson through legal and political channels has succeeded.
“We and our allies have consistently defeated Bishop Jackson in the polls, in the D.C. Council, at the Board of Elections & Ethics, in Superior Court, and most recently in the Court of Appeals,” he said. “That doesn’t justify complacency, but it should give us pause before yielding to an impulse to return intolerance for intolerance.”
Daniels said about 200 people have joined his Facebook group calling for a boycott of the theater and the group would discuss whether to go ahead with a boycott or take other measures, such as a letter-writing campaign urging Landmark Theatres to find a way to stop renting space to Jackson’s church.
“In my opinion, there comes a point where you can only get slapped in the face so many times before you slap back,” he said.