During the 2012 Arab International Festival held this past June in Dearborn, Michigan, a group of Christian evangelists were pelted with stones, bottles, and debris by Muslim youths while deputies from the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office stood idly by, allowing the criminal assault to take place. Many of the Christians were bloodied by the attack. When Ruben Israel, the leader of the Christian group, asked the law enforcement officers present to step in and enforce the criminal law so that the Christians could exercise their right to freedom of speech, Israel was given the option of either leaving the festival or facing arrest.
This past week, Israel retained the legal services of the American Freedom Law Center (AFLC), a national, nonprofit public interest law firm that specializes in defending the free speech rights of Christians. AFLC plans to file a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Israel and the Christian group, whose constitutional rights were violated by the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office.
Robert Muise, Co-Founder and Senior Counsel of AFLC, commented, “Whether you agree or disagree with the Christians’ message, there is one issue to which there is no dispute: no citizen should be stoned in a city street in America for exercising his constitutional right to freedom of speech. And what makes this case so egregious is that law enforcement officers were present and made the conscious choice to allow the Muslim mob to silence the Christian speakers through violence. Indeed, the video of the incident looks like something you would see in the Middle East, not in the United States.”
AFLC Co-Founder and Senior Counsel David Yerushalmi, an expert on sharia (Islamic law) added, “While it is shocking to see video of Christians being stoned in the United States for criticizing Islam, it is not necessarily surprising that this incident occurred in Dearborn, Michigan, a city where the mayor and law enforcement have consistently violated Christians’ free speech rights in favor of appeasing a large Muslim population and where, in line with the Islamic legal dictates of sharia, the Christian Gospel is treated as criminally offensive speech, and violence ‘for the sake of Allah’ is reinforced by arresting or removing the Christians. What you are witnessing on the video is the enforcement of sharia by a hostile mob and law enforcement aiding and abetting.”
Israel asked AFLC to assist him and his fellow Christians with their legal challenge because of the experience, expertise, and successful track record of Muise and Yerushalmi, who are no strangers to the challenges Christians face in Dearborn, a city that has earned a reputation as being hostile toward Christians.
For example, in 2009, Christian Pastor George Saieg was prohibited from distributing his Christian literature at the annual Dearborn Arab Festival. Muise represented Pastor Saieg in his constitutional challenge to the City’s policy, which confined the pastor to a booth if he wanted to hand out his literature to festival goers, most of whom were Muslim. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled in favor of the Christian pastor, holding that the speech restriction violated the First Amendment. In its decision, the Sixth Circuit noted a fundamental problem with the City’s policy in light of the fact that Saieg was seeking to evangelize Muslims. The court stated, “Saieg also faces a more basic problem with booth-based evangelism: ‘[t]he penalty of leaving Islam according to Islamic books is death,’ which makes Muslims reluctant to approach a booth that is publicly ‘labeled as . . . Christian.’” In that case, the court awarded Saieg $103,401.96 for legal fees and costs.
In 2010, four Christian missionaries were handcuffed and jailed for peacefully preaching to Muslims at the Arab Festival. The City charged the Christians with “breach of the peace.” Muise defended the Christians against these charges in their week-long criminal trial. At the close of the trial, the jury returned verdicts of “not guilty.”
Following the acquittals, Muise and Yerushalmi filed a lengthy civil rights lawsuit against the City, its mayor, the chief of police, seventeen police officers, and two festival organizers for violating the Christians’ constitutional rights. The City recently sought to dismiss the lawsuit. However, a Detroit federal judge denied the City’s request, and the case is proceeding.
In 2011, the City was at it again. When a controversial Christian pastor wanted to hold a peaceful demonstration protesting sharia and jihad outside of the Islamic Center of America, the largest mosque in the United States, the City and the Wayne County Prosecutor haled the pastor and his associate into court under an archaic Michigan law that allowed for the imposition of a “peace bond” to prevent a crime. The prosecutor argued that because Muslim counter-protestors threatened violence if the Christians were allowed to hold their protest, the imposition of a “peace bond” to prevent the demonstration was justified. A local state court judge agreed. Following a two-day trial, the court imposed a “peace bond,” issued an order preventing the Christians from going near the mosque for three years, and jailed them until they paid the bond. Neither the pastor nor his associate had legal representation during the course of the “peace bond” proceedings. Muise agreed to represent the Christians on appeal, and successfully argued to the Michigan Circuit Court that the judgment and the speech restricting injunction should be reversed.
In this case, Israel made it clear that his motive for attending the Arab Festival this year was in part to protest the poor treatment of Christians at the festival, and in particular, to protest the 2010 unlawful arrests of the four Christian missionaries who were merely preaching peacefully to Muslims.
Yerushalmi commented, “The City of Dearborn and now the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office appear to be serial violators of the Constitution when it comes to defending the free speech rights of Christians who seek to evangelize Muslims or criticize Islam. Under sharia, this is known as dhimmitude, which is the status that Islamic law mandates for non-Muslims, primarily Jews and Christians, that deprives them of equality of rights and seeks to subdue them under Islamic rule.”
Muise described the constitutional principles at issue here: “The Supreme Court has long recognized that speech serves its ‘high purpose’ when it stirs people to anger. Speech is often provocative and challenging, and it may have profound unsettling effects as it presses for acceptance of an idea. That is why freedom of speech is protected against censorship or punishment. There is no room under our Constitution for a more restrictive view. Additionally, the courts have made clear that a police officer has the duty not to effectuate a heckler’s veto, nor may he join a violent mob intent on suppressing speech. Instead, the officer must take reasonable action to protect persons exercising their free speech rights. The Wayne County Sherriff’s [sic] Office egregiously breached its duty in violation of the U.S. Constitution.”