Jurors in Michigan have rejected the concept of a “dhimmi” status for Christians, ruling that four evangelists who went to an Arab festival not just to be present but to “change minds” did not commit a breach of peace as police had claimed.
The word comes from the Thomas More Law Center, which defended the four Christians after they were charged for being at an Arab festival June 18 in Dearborn, Mich.
The verdict came from a jury of six Dearborn residents late Friday, who concluded that Nabeel Qureshi, Paul Rezkalla, Negeen Mayel and David Wood were not guilty of breach-of-peace charges.
The issue strikes directly at the heart of what many fear is developing across the nation: Muslims given special treatment that subjects those of other faiths to second-class status.
Robert Muise, a senior counsel for the Thomas More Law Center, told WND that’s exactly the situation in this case, since other organizations with a Christian message whose representatives simply “were there” were not subjected to any charges by police.
Those organizations, said Muise, already are complying with Islamic religious law, or Shariah, by not presenting the Gospel message of the Bible to others.
“They were, ‘Let’s just get along, just be present,'” Muise told WND. “They are being used. They are not a threat [to Islam]. They already are suppressed.”
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His clients, however, went to the festival to present the message of Jesus and “change minds and challenge Islam with the teachings of Christ,” he said.
In a 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:
Ultimately they were arrested and charged.
Muise said the idea of a special prohibition on saying something that could be interpreted as challenging Islam is scarily close to becoming reality.
He cited Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer’s recent comment on a Florida church’s plan to burn a Quran in which he suggested the demonstration might not be protected by the First Amendment.
Specifically referencing freedom of speech, Breyer said, “[Oliver Wendell] Holmes said it doesn’t mean you can shout ‘fire’ in a crowded theater. Well, what is it? Why? Because people will be trampled to death. And what is the crowded theater today? What is the being trampled to death?”
George Stephanopoulos, who reported on the comments on his ABC blog, said Breyer indicated that, in the Internet age, he was not prepared to conclude that the First Amendment protects burning a Quran.
The Florida church later canceled its plans, but there were worldwide threats from Muslims of violence if the Quran was burned in the planned public spectacle.
Stephanopoulos reported that Breyer said the issue has yet to be decided.
“It will be answered over time in a series of cases which force people to think carefully. That’s the virtue of cases. And not just cases. Cases produce briefs, briefs produce thought. Arguments are made. The judges sit back and think. And most importantly, when they decide, they have to write an opinion, and that opinion has to be based on reason,” Breyer said, according to Stephanopoulos.
Muise said such a statement illustrates how the nation already is adopting a “protected class of speech directed toward Muslims.”
He noted that he defended a schoolteacher in California who was penalized for having biblical principles posted on his classroom walls. The teacher was told a Muslim student “could be offended,” so they would have to come down.
His Dearborn clients were driven to the Arab festival because of their love for the people who were attending, as well as their love for Jesus, he said.
The jury acquitted the four after 90 minutes of discussion, although Mayel was found guilty of failing to obey a police officer, which the law center described as “unrelated to the actual incident” and likely to be reversed on appeal.
The organization also noted the public condemnation for the Christians despite the acquittals. It reported Dearborn Mayor Jack O’Reilly “continued his ongoing and unprecedented personal attacks on the Christian evangelists, accusing them of being anti-Muslim bigots.”
The mayor’s statement, the law center said, “was clearly an attempt to curry favor with Dearborn’s large Muslim population, which also explains the police department’s alarming mobilization to arrest the four Christians.”
Wood and Qureshi are co-founders of Acts 17 Apologetics, a ministry group that defends the Gospel.
An online resource explains that “dhimmi” status is the Islamic fundamental that “mandates for non-Muslims, primarily Jews and Christians,” a lower-class existence. It explains the non-Muslims are considered “protected people” and free to exercise their own religion “but are made subject to a number of humiliating regulations designed to enforce the Quran’s command that they ‘feel themselves subdued.'”
As WND reported, Michigan state Rep. Tom McMillin had called on the state attorney general to investigate the arrests, saying the Christians were just “engaging festivalgoers in conversation about religion on public property.”
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.
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 O’Reilly 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.