A lawmaker in Michigan is calling on the state attorney general to investigate the arrests of four Christians at a recent Arab festival in the city of Dearborn, saying they were just “engaging festivalgoers in conversation about religion on public property.”
The call comes from state Rep. Tom McMillin, who has introduced a resolution to that effect.
The officers arrested the Christian missionaries and illegally confiscated their video cameras, which were being used to record the events, according to the Thomas More Law Center of Ann Arbor, Mich., which is representing the defendants.
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“Both the constitution of Michigan and the United States guarantee the right of every person to enjoy free speech and practice their religion freely, just as these men were doing,” McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, said.
“Those rights can’t be just pushed aside for political correctness or to accommodate certain circumstances or locations,” he said.
McMillin has been in touch with the “Dearborn Four” and has agreed to attend their arraignment in Dearborn on July 12 as a show of solidarity.
“These men should not be punished for exercising their inalienable rights,” McMillin said.
The Detroit News has reported that officials for a pro-Islamic advocacy organization have accused the Christians of not playing by the event’s rules. The report said members of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations accused the Christians of passing out missionary literature at the festival in violation of rules that required them either to pass out the materials from a “paid booth” or “outside of the festival area.”
“These Christian missionaries were exercising their constitutional rights to free speech and the free exercise of religion, but apparently the Constitution carries little weight in Dearborn, where the Muslim population seems to dominate the political apparatus,” said Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center.
“It’s apparent that these arrests were a retaliatory action over the embarrassing video of the strong-arm tactics used last year by festival security guards. This time, the first thing police officers did before making the arrests was to confiscate the video cameras in order to prevent a recording of what was actually happening,” Thompson said.
Arrested on charges of breach of the peace were Negeen Mayel, Nabeel Qureshi, Paul Rezkalla and David Wood, the legal team said.
Mayel, an 18-year-old woman whose parents emigrated from Afghanistan and a recent convert from Islam to Christianity, also was charged with failure to obey a police officer’s orders. She was approximately 100 feet away and videotaping a discussion with Muslims when her camera was seized, the law firm said.
“Contrary to the comments made by Police Chief Ron Haddad, our Constitution does not allow police to ban the right of free speech just because there are some hecklers. Not all police officers approve of the way their department treated these Christians,” said Thompson.
The Christian missionaries reported police told them they would have to be five blocks away from the festival to give away copies of the Gospel of John.
The law center also is representing Pastor George Saeig, who was prohibited by the festival and police authorities from distributing religious material at last year’s festival. That case is ongoing and a federal appeals court ruled prior to the 2010 event that handing out Christian literature in the proximity of the festival was allowed.
WND reported earlier that at least two people claim a crowd was cheering “Allahu akbar!” while the Christians were led away in handcuffs for doing nothing more than engaging in peaceful dialogue and videotaping the event.
The Arab event was June 18 in Dearborn, where an estimated 30,000 of the city’s 98,000 residents are Muslim.
The American Arab Chamber of Commerce announced the event was expected to draw “over 300,000 people from across the country, Canada and the Middle East.” The festival covered 14 blocks and was free and open to the public.
All the Christian missionaries are from a Christian group called Acts 17 Apologetics.
Qureshi said people at the festival recognized his group from its visit in 2009. Last year, the Acts 17 Apologetics team was escorted from the grounds while being allegedly assaulted by security personnel and several attendees. The following is the group’s footage of the incident:
This year, Qureshi said some attendees who recognized them “would come up to us, accusing us, threatening us, saying we were racists, saying they were going to hurt us and yelling curses and insults at us.”
However, he said his group was able to engage in civil conversations with many people who initiated discussion. But then the group was arrested by local police. Each of the four are now free on bond.
“Paul, David, Negeen and I went to the festival to see and comment on the situation,” Qureshi wrote on his blog. “Thankfully, we recorded every second of our activity at the festival.”
In Saieg’s case, WND reported, a federal appeals court granted an emergency motion allowing him to hand out information about his faith at the same festival.
A three-judge panel from the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, citing the precedent that even a minimal loss of a fundamental right is irreparable, granted the motion requested by the Thomas More Law Center on behalf of the Sudanese Christian.