The case of four Christians arrested at a recent Arab festival in Dearborn, Mich., is heating up with the mayor publicly blasting the group in a letter, claiming the city “has been under attack for several years” by the missionaries.
The Christians were arraigned today on misdemeanor charges of disturbing the peace. All four pleaded not guilty.
As WND reported, Michigan state Rep. Tom McMillin called on the state attorney general to investigate the arrests, saying the Christians were just “engaging festivalgoers in conversation about religion on public property.”
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Arrested on June 18 on charges of breach of the peace were Negeen Mayel, Dr. Nabeel Qureshi, Paul Rezkalla and David Wood. All the Christian missionaries are from a Christian group called Acts 17 Apologetics. 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 for refusing to turn over her video camera.
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. The Dearborn city attorney said the confiscated videos and cameras will be returned this week.
In a video posted after the arrest, Qureshi said his group took “extra precautions” to prevent disruptions by not handing out pamphlets and to speak only to people “who first approached us.”
“This was to limit accusations of instigation and disruption,” he explained. “We knew people have a tendency to accuse us of being disruptive, of inciting and instigating. So we wanted to make sure we did absolutely nothing of the sort.”
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 2009 incident:
This year, Qureshi said his group was able to engage in civil conversations with many people who initiated discussion during the multi-day event. But the group was arrested by local police.
One witness named Steven Atkins, a resident of Toronto, Canada, said, “I never thought I would see this in America.”
“When Dr. Qureshi was arrested I heard people clapping and applauding, and some said ‘Allahu akbar,’” he said. “It was an intense discussion, but it was not unruly. … There was no threat of violence.”
Atkins added, “It’s becoming more restrictive here than in Canada.”
Meanwhile, Dearborn Mayor Jack O’Reilly has released a five-page letter defending the police department’s arrest.
“The City of Dearborn has been under attack for several years by a group identifying themselves as Acts 17 Apologetics,” he wrote. “They arrive in Dearborn with the intent to disrupt a local cultural festival and misrepresent facts in order to further their mission of raising funds through emotional response.”
O’Reilly said the festival is “not about the Muslim faith or its believers” and that five Christian groups and two Muslim organizations lawfully reached out to attendees at the event this year. He said groups are given opportunities to purchase spots at booths or preach in “free-speech zones at the festival.”
He said the festival site is designated a “special event site” and is not considered open to the public.
In the following video, 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:
“Despite knowing this, Acts 17 Apologetics led the viewers of the distorted video to believe they are on public sidewalks,” O’Reilly contends. “For the duration of the three-day event, the public sidewalks in front of the stores and businesses in the event district are no longer ‘public’ in terms of the application of the First Amendment.”
He said at one point Wood gathered a crowd around him at the festival, blocking a key access point and impeding crowds.
“Those who created this public danger did so with the knowledge that they were violating the laws because they wanted to be arrested while their cohorts were actively recording the event for posting on the web,” he wrote. “… The real violation of First Amendment rights occurs with Acts 17 Apologetics trying to imply they were the victim when the real violation is their attack on the City of Dearborn for having tolerance for all religions including believers in the Quran.”
According to a statement posted on the city website, “The City of Dearborn believes the 2009 Acts 17 Apologetics videos are a distortion of the group’s experience and a misrepresentation of the Dearborn Arab International Festival.”
The Christians’ attorneys have indicated they may sue the city in federal court, but the mayor claims the city will fight the lawsuit with the missionaries’ own videos.
The four will appear in court on Aug. 3 for a motion hearing, and the trial is set to begin Sept. 20.
Robert Muise, senior trial counsel with the Thomas More Law Center, told Detroit’s WDIV-TV 4, “If people are offended by the fact that they were preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Muslims and trying to convert Muslims, well, guess what: We have a First Amendment.”
A reporter asked Mayel, the female defendant, is she is concerned about going to trial.
“No,” she responded, “because God is with me.”