Preacher arrested for ‘impeding a business’

A lawsuit has been filed in California to protect the rights of three men who were arrested after being accused of “impeding an open business” even though the “business” was the local department of motor vehicles, and it was closed.

Oh, and the men were standing at least 50 feet from the entrance, impeding no one, according to the case that has been filed on behalf of the three men by the Advocates for Faith and Freedom.

The action is being brought on behalf of Mark Mackey, Edmond Flores Jr., and Pastor Brett Coronado.

The legal team at Advocates explained that “impeding an open business” was created to protect businesses against protesters who block doors of facilities. But the team explained that when the three men were arrested the DMV office was closed.

The arrests happened on Feb. 2, 2011, when the assistant pastor from Calvary Chapel of Hemet and two church elders went to the public property. Mackey then started reading the Bible aloud.

Listen to an audio report of the situation in California

He was arrested less than 30 minutes later, and the two others were arrested a short time after that, even though they had not actually been reading the Bible aloud.

The men believed they had a First Amendment right to free speech and they were standing in a planter in the parking lot and were on public property.

A member of the California Highway Patrol approached Mackey, grabbed his Bible and arrested him. Then Coronado and Flores asked the officer, “What law was he breaking?”

The situation as it developed:

Instead of getting an answer, Coronado and Flores were arrested by another highway patrol officer.

“This is an abuse of power on the part of the CHP,” said Jennifer Monk, associate general counsel for Advocates. “The arresting officer could find no appropriate penal code to use when arresting these men. The purpose of the arrests appears to have been to censor them.”

The organization reported that the men were released and prosecutors have not pursued any charges, and the federal lawsuit alleges violations of the men’s right to free speech and unlawful arrest.

“Whether this was an intentional violation of our clients’ constitutional liberty or whether this was an act of ignorance on the part of the CHP, this lawsuit is important in order to preserve the liberty to read the Bible aloud on public property without fear of criminal prosecution,” said Robert Tyler, general counsel for Advocates for Faith & Freedom.

The case said the men’s activity “consisted solely of peacefully being present in the DMV’s parking lot and sidewalks and of Mr. Mackey’s reading aloud from the Bible.”

The case notes that the officers told the three men they were not allowed to preach to a “captive audience,” and warned them against “trespassing” on public property.

“Plaintiffs’ presence and Bible reading on the sidewalk and in the parking lot were not activities that were incompatible with the normal business activities of the DMV, particularly at an hour before the DMV opened for business,” it explains.

“In addition to humiliating the plaintiffs, the CHP officers took away their cherished right to disseminate their religious views.”

It alleges violations of the Free Speech Clause of the 1st Amendment, unlawful arrest, false imprisonment and it seeks a declaratory judgment stating that the arrests violate applicable federal and state law.

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