By Jeremy Martin
Chaplain Bill Freeman posted $100 bond and was released from jail Oct. 23 after he attempted to “occupy” Holland City Hall. Freeman said he planned to live and sleep inside the municipal building until the Holland City Council reconsidered its June 15 vote against adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the city’s non-discrimination ordinances.
He was charged with disorderly conduct after being asked to leave city hall several times as officials were leaving for the night. Freeman will be arraigned Nov. 8.
BTL sat down with Freeman the morning after his arrest to discuss his civil disobedience, its consequences for him, and his hopes for future change as a result of his actions.
BTL: When you went down to the courthouse did you expect to be arrested?
Bill Freeman: No, I was kind of hoping that I’d be allowed to occupy city hall like the other occupy wall street places around the country, people would see that and join me and we’d have a few people at city hall all the time. That was not the case, they arrested me. I’m not sure for what. I got several possibilities they told me, including disturbing the peace. And I thought that I was protecting the peace, promoting the peace by trying to get equal rights for people who are lesbian, gay, bi and transgender.
BTL: As far as I can tell you are the only person who has been arrested in the city of Holland for protesting the current civil rights amendments.
BF: Yeah, as far as I know. We’ve been trying to talk to the city council every time they meet. At the last meeting one of the council members who voted yes said ‘you guys have to come up with a different tactic because this doesn’t seem to be working.’ So I thought, well why don’t I try to occupy city hall?
BTL: Had you ever done anything like this in the past?
BF: No, I’ve never been arrested for civil disobedience. I had performed a gay wedding, a lesbian wedding actually a couple years ago. No, I’ve never been arrested period.
BTL: Have you spoken with any members of your congregation after the arrest? I’m curious how has your congregation reacted to the news?
BF: Everybody has reacted favorably. I actually have two part time congregations, one in Holland and one in Muskegon. The one in Holland is Interfaith Congregation and the one in Muskegon is Harbor Unitarian Universalist Congregation. Everybody that has talked to me or emailed me thought it was really good.
BTL: What was your reaction when you first learned that if you were to stay put that you would be put under arrest?
BF: Well, I guess I just figured that goes with the territory.
BTL: Your arrest has gained some national publicity and The Advocate posted a story about it online. Did you expect to get this type of publicity outside of Holland, outside of West Michigan?
BF: Not really no. Like I said I didn’t expect to get arrested, and when I did get arrested, there were a couple TV cameras there and a newspaper reporter but I didn’t think it would go further than that. People have sent me articles from the (Detroit) Free Press and the Chicago Tribune, I was interviewed this morning by WSYP in Detroit. I’m pleasantly surprised by that. I hope that results in some kind of national pressure on the five members of the city council to say, ‘hey, this might hit us where we live, this might hurt Tulip Time in May’ or whatever if people see that people aren’t treated equally in Holland.
BTL: If arraigned on November 8, what could happen to you?
BF: I think it will be a fine, my lawyer tells me it will be some kind of fine. I’ve already paid $100 for bail money. As far as I know it’s a misdemeanor, another lawyer told me it could get thrown out of court. Also, if I do it again I won’t post bail. I’ll go to jail is what I’m getting at.