Monday, September 10, 2007

Episcopal priest entrapped

By FRANK CERABINO, Palm Beach Post
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Sunday, September 09, 2007

OK, here's the scenario.

A guy goes to a public place where he hopes to find a willing sex partner. He zeroes in on somebody who apparently is sending off inviting signals. And so, without much fanfare, the guy announces that he would like to have sex and would be willing to follow that person in his car to that person's apartment, where they could have consensual sex in a private setting.

Doesn't sound like a crime, right? But maybe this cryptic scenario just needs more details.

Let's say that public place is the city library and our hypothetical guy sees an attractive woman sitting alone, gazing up from the pages of her steamy romance novel with a come-hither look that's hard to mistake.

"What luck!" he thinks. So he walks up to her and says in a voice only she can hear, "Let's go to your place and get it on."

And she says, "OK, follow me."

So he drives off, following her until a police car screeches up.

Officers place him under arrest for soliciting sex.

I'm guessing that most people would ridicule that arrest.

Sure, it might seem creepy for two people to behave that way. Isn't the guy supposed to at least ask her out to dinner first? And the woman would have to be nuts to take a complete stranger home with her like that, right?

But is it against the law? There's no money involved. No minors. No lewd public act. Just two adults choosing to behave recklessly behind closed doors.

I'm mentioning this hypothetical scenario because it doesn't seem all that different from the latest public restroom scandal.

The Rev. Michael Penland, a priest at St. Gregory's Episcopal Church in Boca Raton, was arrested this summer in North Carolina for allegedly soliciting sex from a guy who turned out to be an undercover cop.

Nothing wrong with trying to get a room

The public place was a men's room at a Waynesville park, where police were conducting a sting operation based on complaints that homosexual men were meeting there for sex.

Sex in a public restroom is a crime. And it should be, whether it's heterosexual or homosexual.

The "get a room" rule applies. Kids and adults should not have to tolerate other people's using a restroom as a substitute for a motel room.

Public restrooms have a long history of being used by homosexual men for anonymous sex, particularly closeted homosexual men who can't afford to be seen in open gay meeting places. Like our married Episcopal priest.

But Penland's case differs from the two notorious previous cases this summer. In both of those cases, the alleged sex acts were slated for the public place, and in one case, in exchange for money.

State Rep. Bob Allen offered to pay an undercover officer $20 for sex in the Titusville public park, police said. And U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, offered to have sex right there in the men's room at the Minneapolis airport, police there said.

In contrast, the priest proposed having sex "by asking him if he (Penland) could go home with the officer," the arrest report stated.

"He was in the process of following the undercover officer 'home' when he was stopped."

'Crime against nature'?

So what happened in public? A private conversation between two men agreeing to have consensual sex in private.

That doesn't sound like a sting, unless the purpose is to expose closeted gay men.

And that's the real crime here - the charge itself.

Police charged Penland with soliciting a "crime against nature."

That's because North Carolina still has barbaric anti-sodomy laws on the books, despite a 4-year-old U.S. Supreme Court ruling that invalidates them.

So don't confuse the priest with those other guys.

Penland had the decency to seek a private spot. His "crime," basically, is being gay in North Carolina.

[Of course, I'm not defending this guy if he was cheating on a spouse, but the fact that entrapment still goes on is worrying. There are arguments that Larry Craig was entrapped.]

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