A street preacher known for challenging unconstitutional restrictions on speech and other First Amendment rights now is challenging the FBI, alleging he was put on the organization’s terror watch list and was placed under investigation for no more than his “nonviolent religious speech which government officials perceive as controversial.”
The accusations concerning the FBI’s treatment of Michael Marcavage, founder of the evangelistic Repent America ministry, were contained in a letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller from John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute.
The organization is representing Marcavage in the matter.
The Rutherford Institute reported it has been given information that the FBI has been conducting a secret investigation into the associations and activities of the Christian street preacher and “is believed to have added the preacher to its terrorist watch list.”
The report said that makes it hard to travel and creates other complications.
Whitehead called on Mueller to either cease the investigation or make known the charges against the preacher.
“Michael Marcavage deserves to know why he is under investigation and whether he has, in fact, been placed on the FBI’s terrorist watch list. However, if, as we suspect, Marcavage is guilty of nothing more than engaging in nonviolent religious speech which government officials perceive as controversial, then the government has clearly overstepped its constitutional bounds,” Whitehead said.
“This sort of secret investigation, which is antithetical to the principles of a free society, has a chilling and deleterious effect on the ability of all Americans to exercise their First Amendment right to free speech,” he said.
Marcavage regularly travels the country preaching in traditional public forums, distributing Christian literature and engaging passersby in discussions about the Christian faith.
Marcavage recently learned that the FBI has been requesting “interviews” with his friends and associates to interrogate them about his activities, Whitehead reported. Subsequently, a reliable source informed Marcavage that he was the object of an FBI investigation and that his name had been added to the FBI’s terror watch list, the Terrorist Screening Database, based on his alleged affiliation with an anti-abortion group known as the “Army of God.”
Rutherford said the terror watch list is a secret file maintained by the government.
Whitehead told Mueller that under Homeland Security Presidential Directive 6 (HSPD-6), to be placed on the terrorist watch list, an individual must be known to be a terrorist or must be reasonably suspected of being a terrorist.
“Moreover, Marcavage, who has devoted himself to peaceful advocacy and who has never been involved in terrorism nor associated with any terrorist organizations, including the so-called Army of God, does not meet the criteria laid out in Directive 6,” Whitehead’s report said.
Whitehead wrote, “Mere speech, which does not include advocacy for violence, should not result in disturbing, intrusive investigations and surveillance by a secretive police force.”
Marcavage has been involved in a number of court disputes, but they mostly have been over his right to free speech. A recent dispute involved city demands for a warrantless search of his residence.
Another recent case challenged a decision in Winchester, Va., by city officials to restrict speech if someone might be offended by it.
Marcavage won his case there. He’s also had disputes over restrictions on speech rights in Philadelphia and New York and other locations, including at the Liberty Bell center, where he was told he could not express his beliefs to passersby.
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