A legal team representing a street preacher who has ruffled feathers across the country with his straight-on presentation of the gospel of Jesus has filed a federal Freedom of Information Act request seeking details whether the FBI has placed him on its terror watch list.
Whitehead is representing Marcavage after the street preacher learned the FBI was asking for interviews with his friends and associates to interrogate them about his activities.
The Rutherford Institute confirmed that “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 officials confirmed today that a FOIA request had been filed, seeking information about the FBI actions.
Inclusion on the list, the Rutherford Institute explained, “can hamper one’s ability to travel and can result in heightened government surveillance.”
Whitehead said the FBI was running a secret investigation into the associations and activities of Marcavage. He told the FBI in the earlier letter that the agency should either reveal what’s going on or stop the investigation.
“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.”
Marcavage is the director of an evangelism ministry whose mission is the public proclamation of the Gospel. He routinely travels the country preaching in traditional public forums, distributing Christian literature and engaging passersby in discussions about the Christian faith.
Whitehead’s letter to the FBI pointed out that under presidential directives an “individual must be known to be a terrorist or must be reasonably suspected of being a terrorist” to be placed on the list.
In filing a FOIA request with the FBI, Rutherford Institute attorneys have asked the FBI to provide any information relating to Marcavage’s possible inclusion on databases or lists of individuals suspected of advocating terrorism or other unlawful acts.
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.