Local pastor asks county to review criteria for permitting Judicial Plaza events

Janie Slaven | CJ

Jeff Griffith, pastor of Denham Street Baptist Church, spoke during the Citizens Comments portion of Tuesday Pulaski County Fiscal Court meeting about his concerns for the Chill Out and Proud event planned for next month.

Organizers of Chill Out and Proud 2019 are calling the LGBTQ+ pride festival a "safe, inclusive, family-friendly" event.

One local preacher is warning that may not be the case -- asking county officials to come up with a plan of action for granting permission for future events on the Pulaski Judicial Center Plaza.

Pastor Jeff Griffith of Denham Street Baptist Church spoke during the Citizens Comments portion of Tuesday's Pulaski County Fiscal Court meeting -- opening by telling county officials that he was "trying to head off a potential storm in our community" regarding the festival planned for October 5 on the Judicial Plaza in downtown Somerset.

Griffith said he's not opposed to the festival itself but that the venue concerns him. He referred specifically to drag performances, which he said he considers to be adult entertainment with the potential to become "lewd and obscene."

"Pastors, clergy of our community, do not want these drag performers parading around in our Judicial Plaza," Griffith said. "We pray there every year; we read our Bibles every year; our families participate in functions in the Judicial Plaza, and we are opposed. I'm trying to head off a protest by being here today."

Griffith said he's communicating with the festival's organizers to ensure that the drag performances aren't done on the plaza.

Festival organizer Kat Moses told the Commonwealth Journal on Tuesday night there would be no drag performances at the Judicial Plaza.

The "mixer and drag show after party" will be held at the nearby Jarfly Brewing Company after the festival ends that Saturday.

"We won't have any drag performances on the plaza," Moses said. "But we are welcoming all, so we can't guarantee that there won't be attendees in drag. We have no more control over what attendees choose to wear than any other festival. As long as it is appropriate for public."

Events on the plaza are scheduled through the county, which owns the property as well as Fountain Square. Griffith presented to Fiscal Court "templates for facility use" that he would like county officials to consider in establishing criteria and a review process for obtaining permission to use Judicial Plaza moving forward.

"In the future, we could have a review process, 24 hours, of who uses the plaza and what it's for," Griffith said. "There ought to be some type of paperwork involved in requesting…Anybody should be able to use it, I agree. They're taxpayers but my concern is that it's wholesome, family-oriented and good for our community.…

"I don't want to protest everybody that wants to use our Judicial Plaza," the pastor continued. "I wouldn't want anybody to protest me if I was out there with a singing group or a preaching group but I do want it to maintain some type of moral integrity and decency within our city…I think I can quell the screaming part of it if given the opportunity to negotiate the lewd and obscene behavior in the Judicial Plaza."

The court didn't take official action on Tuesday, with Pulaski County Judge-Executive Steve Kelley thanking Griffith for his comments and pledging to look over the documents. He also thanked the pastor for his church's donation of a plaque bearing the "In God We Trust" national motto, which has been hung in the Fiscal Courtroom.

"We're proud to display that," Kelley said.

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