Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Bible Believers Target Arab Festival

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Bible Believers Target Arab Festival

Article excerpt

In the case of Bible Believers v. Wayne County, 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 16533; 2014 FED App. 0208P (6th Cir. 8/27/2014), the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit grappled "with claims of the right to dissemi- nate ideas in public places" against "claims of an effective power in government to keep the peace." In this particular instance, a group of Christian evangelists were proselytizing at a city festival when an angry crowd of youths began hurling debris at them. Law enforcement officers told the group of evangelists to leave the festival or be cited for disorderly conduct. (See the street preacher's point-of-view video of the incident at www.youtube.com/watch?v=HOL_ommK3qg).

The federal district court rejected claims that governmental action under these particular circumstances violated the First Amendment right to freedom of speech, prompting an appeal to the federal circuit court described below.

Facts of the Case

The City of Dearborn in Wayne Coun- ty, Michigan, had hosted the Arab In- ternational Festival ("Festival") every summer from 1995 until 2012. The three-day event, which was free and open to the public, welcomed roughly 250,000 attendees and featured car- nival attractions, five entertainment, international food and merchandise sales. Over the years, Christian evange- lists had targeted the Festival, including the Bible Believers.

Bible Believers is an unincorporat- ed association of Christian evangelists who desire "to share and express their Christian faith with others, including Muslims, through various activities, in- cluding street preaching and displaying signs, banners, and T-shirts with Chris- tian messages and Scripture quotes." For the Bible Believers, Dearborn was "an important place for their evangeli- cal activities because of its large Islam- ic population."

The 2012 Festival ran from June 15 through June 17 along several blocks in Dearborn. The Wayne County Sheriff's Office (WCSO) was the Festival's exclusive law enforcement agency. According to WCSO's Oper- ation Plan for the Festival, the over- all mission was to provide "Wayne County citizens, festival patrons, organizers and merchants with law enforcement presence and to ensure the safety of the public, and keep the peace in the event there is a distur- bance." The Plan further noted that "past festivals had attracted Christian evangelical groups, including "a radi- cal group calling themselves the Bible Believers." As characterized in the Plan, "[t]hese groups will possibly show up at the festival trying to pro- voke our staff in a negative manner and attempt to capture the negativity on video camera."

On June 15, 2012, the Bible Be- lievers came to the Festival "bearing strongly worded T-shirts and ban- ners," including: "Jesus Is the Judge; Therefore, Repent, Be Converted That Your Sins May Be Blotted Out," "Turn or Burn," "Jesus Is the Way, the Truth and the Life. All Others Are Thieves and Robbers," and "Islam Is A Religion of Blood and Murder." One Bible Believer carried a severed pig's head on a stick, which purport- edly "protected the Bible Believers by repelling observers who feared it." After arriving, the leader of the Bi- ble Believers (Ruben Chavez) began preaching, castigating the crowd for "following a pedophile prophet."

As the Bible Believers moved deeper into the Festival, the crowd - a good portion of which appeared to be minors - continued to gather and yell. Some people started throwing debris - in- cluding rocks, plastic bottles, garbage and a milk crate - at the Bible Believ- ers. Someone in the crowd also shoved one Bible Believer to the ground.

Some WCSO officers detained de- bris throwers while other officers hov- ered at the edges of the crowd. Even- tually, after about 35 minutes, the Bible Believers temporarily stopped preach- ing and stood as the crowd harangued them and hurled objects. Several offi- cers, including some mounted units, attempted to quell the crowd. …

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