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An appeal is challenging a Christian activist’s conviction for failing to obey a police officer’s order to shut down her camera while she was filming fellow Christian missionaries at last year’s Dearborn Arab Festival because the command apparently wasn’t legal.
According to the Thomas More Law Center, whose attorneys have filed the appeal with the Circuit Court for Wayne County, Mich., the city ordinances in Dearborn require that if a police officer wants his orders followed he or she has to be acting “in the lawful performance of his duty.”
However, testimony at the trial revealed that it was legal for the filming to be taking place where it was, and the law firm is arguing that a police officer “who violates the constitution rights of a private citizen is not ‘acting in the lawful performance of his duty.'”
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It was Nageen Mayel, 18, who was convicted in Dearborn District Court for failing to obey a police officer’s order. The order had been for her to turn off the camera that she was using to film fellow Christian missionaries at the Arab Festival.
“Astonishingly, at the trial, the officer admitted that the filming by Mayel was in fact not a crime,” the law firm said.
All four Christians had been charged with breach of the peace for talking about Christianity with Muslims, and all four were acquitted. Mayel’s conviction was the only one to result of the police action against the Christians.
The law firm explained the officer ordered her to turn off her video camera, “then forcefully grabbed Mayel’s arm and camera, placed her in handcuffs, and had her locked up in the city jail.”
The law firm said since Dearborn is considered home to the largest Muslim population in America, “many city officials, including the mayor, engage in official action solely to please this significant voting bloc.”
The lawyers explained, “In this case, police effectively replaced our constitutional guarantees of free speech with Shariah law, which forbids Christians to proselytize Muslims.”
The appeal argues the conviction needs to be overturned because the arresting police officer lacked any information that Mayel was involved in criminal activity when she was seized by the officer. The brief explains since the filming was legal, the officer’s order to shut it down was not.
“Consequently, [Mayel] cannot be criminally charged nor convicted for disobeying an unconstitutional – and thus unlawful – police order,” the brief argues.
“The arresting officer’s actions and the actions of the Dearborn police department are textbook examples of civil rights violations of the highest order,” said Robert Muise, the senior trial counsel for the law center who is handling the case.
“When a conviction is based on the actions of a police officer that violate fundamental constitutional rights, as in this case, that conviction must be reversed, lest our constitutional freedoms be rendered meaningless platitudes subject to the will of police officials,” he said.
The arrests came at the festival last June 18. Mayel, Nabell Qureshi, Paul Rezkalla and David Wood were at the festival and were talking about Christianity. They were arrested, but a jury acquitted them of the breach of peace charges.
The issue strikes directly at the heart of what many fear is developing across the nation: Muslims being given special treatment that subjects those of other faiths to second-class status. Other Christian groups paid for booth space at the festival, officials said, and were restricted to those locations. These four, who are linked to the Acts 17 Apologetics ministry group that Wood and Qureshi founded, simply attended and talked about their faith.
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:
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. That year, the Acts 17 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:
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.”