Sixth Circuit Rejects Muslim 'Heckler's Veto' Against Christian Group

Christians around the world have faced persecution in recent years. While it is most severe in places like Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Sudan, it occurs in other places as well.

Like Dearborn, Michigan.

Dearborn formerly hosted an annual Arab International Festival. In 2010 and 2012, Christian missionaries were arrested or threatened with sanctions while proselytizing festival attendees.

The June 18, 2010, arrests occurred while the defendants were peacefully preaching. David Wood, Nabeel Qureshi, Paul Rezkalla, and Negeen Mayel were charged with breach of peace, a misdemeanor. The city posted a letter from the mayor on its website condemning the arrestees for “their attack on the City of Dearborn for having tolerance for all religions including believers in the Koran.”

Unfortunately for the mayor, there was video substantiating the defendants’ version of events.

The missionaries were acquitted of breaching the peace (although Mayel was found guilty of failing to obey a police order). Wood, Qureshi, and Rezkalla then sued Dearborn for violating their civil rights. In 2013 the city settled the case, removed the mayor’s letter from its website and posting an apology in its stead, and paid the evangelists $300,000.

The 2012 incident involved evangelists from a different group calling itself "Bible Believers." They also recorded the event on video. One evangelist carried a severed pig’s head on a stick. Others displayed signs with text such as “Islam Is A Religion of Blood and Murder,” “Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. All Others Are Thieves and Robbers,” and “Muhammad is a ... liar, false prophet, murderer, child molesting pervert.”

An evangelist began preaching using a megaphone, but stopped after police warned him not to. A missionary named Ruben Chavez castigated a crowd that had formed for following a “pedophile” prophet, and he warned of God’s impending judgment.

As the evangelizing continued, the crowd -- which appeared to include many minors -- responded by yelling back and hurling water bottles, milk crates, eggs, rocks, garbage, and other objects at the evangelists. Chavez was struck in the face.

Police intervened once to ask the crowd to back up and removed one teenager who threw a bottle; the record does not indicate whether he was arrested or cited, only that “police presence and intervention dissipated after this minimal and isolated intervention.” The missionaries asked to be moved to a protected area, but police refused because the Chamber of Commerce had chosen not to have a “free speech zone” at the festival that year as they had (for part of the festival) the previous year.

Instead, police asked the Bible Believers to leave to prevent injury, threatening to cite them if they refused.

Chavez responded:

I would assume a few hundred angry Muslim children throwing bottles would be more of a threat than a few guys with signs.

After checking with their lawyer, police reiterated their ultimatum to Chavez and the others. The Bible Believers left. They were cited for driving without license plates; they said that they had removed the plates because they feared they would be followed.