Press-Republican

March 24, 2013

City of Plattsburgh approves prayer vigil

By JOE LoTEMPLIO
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — City councilors approved a request for a group to use three parking spaces in front of Planned Parenthood of the North Country New York for a prayer vigil on Good Friday.

The request came from the Apostles for Life, who will occupy the spaces in front of 66 Brinkerhoff St. from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Friday.

The group, which prays for an end to abortion, has performed the prayer vigil in front of Planned Parenthood on Good Friday for more than a decade now, as the procedure is done there.

NO PUBLIC COMMENT

The request has sparked controversy in the past, with some objecting to the prayer vigil itself, saying it is disruptive to clients utilizing Planned Parenthood.

Others have been concerned about three parking spaces being tied up on a busy street close to downtown during business hours.

No one from the public showed up to address the matter this year.

The request for this year’s vigil was approved by a 5-to-1 vote, with Councilors Timothy Carpenter (D-Ward 1), George Rabideau (R-Ward 3), James Calnon (I-Ward 4), Chris Case (D-Ward 5) and Chris Jackson (D-Ward 6) voting in favor.

“In the interests of free speech, I vote ‘yes,’” Calnon said.

Mark Tiffer (D-Ward 2) voted against the request but did not say why at the meeting.

INTERFERENCE CITED

Contacted by the Press-Republican later, Tiffer said his vote had nothing to do with Apostles for Life or its supporters.

“This has more to do with the venue that they are choosing to occupy. I do not believe it is appropriate to allow an organization or group of people to target or interfere with the business of another organization, in particular, Planned Parenthood,” he wrote in an email.

“Many young women and men use Planned Parenthood as a primary health-care facility ... patients should not have to be inconvenienced, belittled or intimidated. I am not saying this is their intent, but there are unintended consequences for one’s actions.”

Tiffer said he suggested the prayer vigil be held at Trinity Park, City Hall or at the Macdonough Monument. He said a gathering at those sites would not interfere with traffic or business operations.

THERE TO PRAY

Dr. John Middleton, head of Apostles for Life, said the prayer group will not be blocking the sidewalk in front of Planned Parenthood or intimidating anyone.

He said the vigil usually lasts just 30 to 45 minutes.

“We are there to pray,” he said. “I’ve never seen anyone disrespected.”

Middleton said the group does not want to hold its vigil at another location for good reason.

“We pray there because that is where what we are praying for takes place.”

ESCORTS READY

Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Martha Stahl said they understand Apostles for Life has the right to pray.

She said the agency will be ready with supporters of its own to serve as escorts for patients, if need be, and to stand in solidarity with them.

“We are proud that we have so many folks to volunteer to be with us and support us,” Stahl said.

“That makes us feel good.”

OTHER ACTION

The council also unanimously approved a request from Club Caribbean at SUNY Plattsburgh to hold a Street Jam Carnival from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday, April 20. A section of Rugar Street from Memorial Hall to Hood Hall will be blocked off for the event.

The council also agreed to change its regular meeting scheduled for this Thursday to Wednesday, March 27, because of the city’s Good Friday holiday on Friday.

The meeting on Wednesday will begin at 5 p.m. with a work session, followed by the regular meeting at 5:30 p.m.

Both are open to the public.

Email Joe LoTemplio:jlotemplio@pressrepublican.com