Christian evangelists win Michigan speech case over Arab festival

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Bible(Reuters) A federal appeals court said police violated the free speech rights of Christian evangelists by telling them to leave a June 2012 Arab-American festival in Dearborn, Mich., after an angry crowd began pelting them with bottles, eggs and other objects.

By an 8-7 vote, the entire 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday (Oct. 28) said Wayne County and two deputy police chiefs were civilly liable to members of Bible Believers for violating their First Amendment rights.

The case now returns to a federal district judge to award damages and attorney’s fees.

Bible Believers is known for signs and messages that communicate what the Cincinnati-based appeals court called “overtly” anti-Muslim sentiments.

READ: Bishop Michael Curry’s vision: A world transformed by the love of God

Its members sued after police escorted them from the Arab International Festival in Dearborn when they appeared with a severed pig’s head and began preaching.

A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit in 2013, and a divided three-judge 6th Circuit panel upheld that ruling in 2014. Wednesday’s decision reversed those holdings. It is rare for an entire federal appeals court to hear a case.

Writing for the majority, Circuit Judge Eric Clay said it is “easy to understand Dearborn’s desire to host a joyous festival celebrating the city’s Arab heritage,” but that officials went too far in suppressing the plaintiffs’ “disagreeable” speech.

Wayne County “effectuated a constitutionally impermissible heckler’s veto by allowing an angry mob of riotous adolescents to dictate what religious beliefs and opinions could and could not be expressed,” he wrote. “This, the Constitution simply does not allow.”

Lawyers for the county did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

“We’re very pleased, and all freedom-loving Americans who enjoy the protections of the First Amendment should be pleased,” said Robert Muise, senior counsel for the American Freedom Law Center, who represented Bible Believers, in a phone interview. “Violence cannot be used to suppress speech that the listener dislikes, and the job of the police is to protect the speaker.”

Circuit Judge John Rogers, one of the dissenters, said it was “practical and reasonable” for police to act as they did to help stop the violence. “There may have been much better ways for the police to handle this situation, but there was no First Amendment violation,” he wrote.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel.)

  • Glyndon Morris

    And once again “Christians” drive good people away from the Gospel.

  • Jeffrey R

    There are no good people(Romans 3:10), and no one can be driven away from the Gospel who it was intended for. Romans 8:28-30. I wouldn’t expect you to understand 1 Corinthians 1:18.

  • Nick

    I’m with you, Glyndon. This hate and racism disguised as the gospel is disgusting. Praying for our Arab brothers and sisters in Michigan.

  • Sister Geraldine Marie, OP, RN, PHN

    The group may be exercising 1st Amendment rights, but they are far from practicing Christian moral principles, especially to love one’s neighbor as oneself!
    They should read YAH’SHUA’s conversation with the Samaritan woman in the 4th chapter of John’s gospel. He did not berate the woman nor refuse to speak to her, a Samaritan AND a woman (which at that time, wasn’t allowed). In fact, He revealed to her that He was the Messiah!

  • Diogenes

    As always, Sister Geraldine, your thoughts are mild and well reasoned, a blessing on this site. Your point is further amplified by the fact that these folks appeared with a severed pig’s head, an unnecessary insult to the festival participants.

  • Joao

    And you know they were being hateful and being unchristian how? The report doesn’t even mention what they said. The way american politicians and media are, even saying “Mohammad is no prophet, Jesus can save you” can be called hateful nowadays.

  • Joao2

    The same PD in Dearborn arrested Nabeel Qureshi for doing nothing but answer questions from muslims (he’s a former muslim, now christian evangelist), when he was the one that was cursed at and almost attacked, so, sister, do presume the innocence of the people you’re criticizing.

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  • Garson Abuita

    Even if you want to argue the signs that said “Islam is a religion of blood and murder,” and “Muhammad was a child molester”, what was the point of the severed pig’s head if not to display hate?