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A federal judge has determined that Christians may, in fact, preach the Bible where Muslims can hear, in a ruling today that slammed a plan by the city of Dearborn that would have required a minister to give up his rights in order to speak.
U.S. District Judge Denise Page Hood today ruled that the city’s requirement for a minister to sign a “Hold Harmless” agreement before he would be allowed to speak on public property is a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of free speech and free assembly.
She quoted from the city’s required “release” that it was demanding Pastor Terry Jones sign before being allowed to speak on public property near the nation’s largest Islamic mosque, which is found in Dearborn.
That would have required that Jones “RELEASE AND FOREVER DISCHARGE the city of Dearborn … and its officers, employees, and agents, from any and all claims, liabilities, or lawsuits, including legal costs and reasonable attorney fees, resulting from their activities on City of Dearborn property.”
“This is clearly an unconstitutional clause which impedes plaintiffs’ First Amendment right to free speech and assembly,” the judge wrote. “The clause encompasses not only liability for physical harm to the permittees, but also for deprivation of permittees’ constitutional rights.”
“The clause also requires permittees to assume legal and financial responsibility even for those activities at the event that are outside of the permittee’s control, including activities of the city. The ordinance requiring the indemnity agreement and the ‘Hold Harmless’ presented to plaintiffs are unconditional and violate the First Amendment to the United States Constitution as to plaintiffs and others who wish to exercise their rights to speak and assemble in the public fora.”
The city previously has been cited at fault in a number of conflicts between Christians who want to minister to Muslims and local Muslim groups who want to prevent that message.
In fact, a federal judge recently refused to dismiss a complaint against the city brought by four Christian missionaries arrested at a 2010 Muslim festival. The city earlier was ordered to pay some $100,000 for the arrest a year earlier of a Christian missionary at that same festival.
Today, the judge granted a motion from the Thomas More Law Center for an emergency temporary restraining order so that Jones will be allowed to speak in front of the mosque on Saturday.
The city had insisted that Jones and his organization, Stand Up for America Now, submit to the “Hold Harmless” agreement demands before he could speak.
“Dearborn has a history of discriminating against Christians who want to speak out against the internal threat of Shariah law and Islam,” said Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel for the law center.
“And every time the city attempts to curtail the constitutional rights of Christians, we will confront them in a court of law. There is no doubt in my mind that the city knew the ‘Hold Harmless’ agreement they were trying to get Jones’s organization to sign was unconstitutional,” he said.
The center said the case will continue even after the injunction was issued, because that action doesn’t remove the policy, which could be used in the future.
Dearborn, which previously has been described by critics as a “serial violator” of religious rights, had offered the draconian agreement as a requirement for those who wanted to speak on public property there.
Jones and his Stand Up America Now organization applied several weeks ago for a special-events permit to allow Jones to speak Saturday in front of the largest mosque in North America, in Dearborn.
City officials then demanded that Jones essentially surrender all of his legal rights to do so.
The agreement warned participants that “these risks could result in damage to property, personal, and/or bodily injury or death, including injuries or death to the individual participants.”
Notably, the agreement does not have any requirement that the protected actions be reasonable or even legal. Consequently, the waiver could be used as a defense even if police and other authorities further abuse or violate the rights of the Christians.
Erin Mersino, the TMLC attorney handling the case, said it was improper to give the city such “unbridled discretion” on the matter.
“The city’s free speech restriction imposes an unconstitutional burden on plaintiffs’ constitutional rights,” she wrote in the complaint.
TMLC represented Jones and his associate, Wayne Sapp, last November after they were jailed in Dearborn before they spoke even a word. In that case, a state judge ordered that they sign a “peace bond.” However, the law center overturned the order on appeal.
Jones’ Stand Up America Now was established to proclaim the Bible to Muslims and educate people about the threat of Islamic law to the fundamental principles of freedom in the U.S. As part of his outreach efforts, Jones travels around the country speaking about Christianity at Muslim events and mosques.
TMLC defended Christians in previous cases brought by Dearborn. Also working on the issue has been the American Freedom Law Center and attorney Robert Muise, who previously worked with TMLC.
In a recent decision, a federal judge denied Dearborn’s request to dismiss a civil rights action brought by four Christians who were arrested at the Dearborn Arab International Festival in 2010.
The American Freedom Law Center said the four were arrested by Dearborn officers while speaking about their faith to Muslims.
The Christians spent the night in jail and were accused of “breaching the peace.” However, Muise won acquittals from a jury for all the defendants in a criminal trial.
After the trial, Muise, along with attorney David Yerushalmi, filed a 96-page civil rights lawsuit against the city, Mayor John B. O’Reilly, Chief of Police Ronald Haddad, 17 police officers and two executives from the American Arab Chamber of Commerce. The plaintiffs are Acts 17 Apologetics, Nabeel Qureshi, David Wood, Paul Rezkalla and Josh Hogg.
Just days earlier, a Detroit judge had awarded some $100,000 in attorney’s fees in another case of a Christian who was arrested at the festival.
In that case, the city was told to pay the fees on behalf of Christian Pastor George Saieg, who had been arrested at the 2009 event. Magistrate Judge R. Steven Whalen said his recommendation was for fees and costs totaling $103,401.96 to be awarded in the case that was handled by attorney Muise.
Muise, at the time, was with the Thomas More Law Center, and the fees go to that organization.
Noted the judge’s order today, “It is well settled that the loss of First Amendment freedoms, for even minimal periods of time unquestionably constitutes irreparable injury.”
She continued, “The court finds that plaintiffs have shown they are likely to succeed on their claim that the city of Dearborn’s ordinance requiring a ‘Hold and Harmless’ agreement prior to holding an event, is unconstitutional.”