Debate About Free Speech In Dearborn Continues

EDITORIAL (Updated 27-Jul-2010) — The Dearborn Free Press has purposely been very slow to report much about this controversy. We heard about the arrest of  four Christians at the Arab International Festival, on Friday, June 18 — the night that it happened. We mentioned something about it on our Facebook page, the following Monday morning (June 21st). We have been very cautious to report anything, and a careful investigation is still ongoing.

On June 21st we made the following statements  (only on the Dearborn Free Press Facebook page):

  • We linked to a Detroit News article entitled “Families Enjoy Arab International Festival.”
  • We linked to an article –  Court Motion – Pastor Allowed to Distribute Christian Literature at Arab Festival published by the Thomas More Law Center of Ann Arbor (A court ruling allowing Pastor George Saieg, a Sudanese Christian, to distribute religious literature and discuss his Christian faith to Muslims attending this year’s annual Arab Festival.)
  • We said:  “The Dearborn, Michigan Facebook page is buzzing about the 4 people arrested at the Arab Festival over the weekend. (Mostly from people who did not attend the festival). Did you attend the festival?”
  • We said:  “Observation:  Many of the people complaining about Dearborn, Michigan don’t live in Dearborn and probably don’t have all their facts straight. (How could they? They don’t live in Dearborn.) It’s up to us as citizens of Dearborn to present the truth, and continue working together to improve our community.”
  • We linked to a YouTube video and made the following statement:  “We’ll do our best to present all sides of this story (as the story develops)… Here is a video from the 4 people that were arrested at the Arab Festival in Dearborn, Michigan last Friday night. Nabeel Qureshi (a former Muslim from Norfolk, Virginia), David Wood (from Bronx, New York). Information on the other 2 people (Paul R. and Nageem?) is unknown at this time. The Aramaic/Arabic Broadcasting Network (ABNSAT.COM) is headquartered in Walled Lake, Michigan.”

These are some of the comments we received on our Facebook page on June 21st (names removed):

“…  I do live in Dearborn and the bottom line is this: When you are using city (taxpayer) funds to put on a public festival, you can’t arrest people for proselytizing. Whether you are preaching about Muhammad or Christ, you have the protection of free speech. I don’t like either one infringing on my free time, but whether I like it or not, it’s not illegal in this country.”

“If the people were standing peaceably in their booths then that is one thing, but imho it’s over the top when my family cannot walk through the area, and they had people trying to put books into my (little) kids’ hands. It’s people like these who put Christians in a bad light and create bad feelings all around. And I would say the same about Muslims or Atheists, or Hindus, or… you get the point.”

Update: On June 22nd, we posted this link on our Facebook page, and made the following statement: “This blog post by Mirele (an Islamic blogger [perhaps] from Sedona, Arizona) is more carefully researched than some of the articles we have seen, and explains some of the complications involved in the recent case. ‘I located the legal opinion for the Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) granted last Thursday in the case George Saieg v. City of Dearborn.’ It’s good to see some people doing research before they provide their opinions.”

Several minutes later we posted a link (on Facebook) to this Thomas More Law Center report, along with the comment:  “Arrested on charges of Breach of the Peace are: Negeen Mayel, Dr. Nabeel Qureshi, Paul Rezkalla, and David Wood. Mayel, an eighteen year old female, whose parents emigrated from Afghanistan and a recent convert from Islam to Christianity, was also charged with failure to obey a police officer’s orders.”  (The previous article at TMLC has been removed, and replaced with a newer article.)

On June 26 we posted a link (on our Facebook page) to this Fox News / Shawn Hannity video clip, and asked our Facebook friends for an opinion: “Shawn Hannity (Fox News – Great American Panel) talks with Kirsten Haglund (Miss America 2008, from Farmington Hills) about the four Christian apologists arrested at the 15th Annual Arab Festival in Dearborn last weekend. Is this story receiving fair and balanced treatment in the media?”

By this time we already had evidence that some major news organizations (Fox News, Detroit Free Press, etc.) had done a poor job of investigative journalism and were distorting some of the facts. [e.g. confusing (or merging) events of Friday June 18th (the 4 people arrested and jailed for “Breach of Peace”) with events of  Sunday June 20th (attempted passing out Gospels of John and warning by DPD to stop.)]

On July 6, we stated on Facebook:  “Michigan State Representative Tom McMillin introduced a resolution calling on Attorney General Mike Cox to investigate Dearborn police arrest of four Christian evangelists on June 18th; calling for an investigation of [possible] violation of First Amendment rights. Joining in the resolution were reps David Agema, Brian Calley, Kim Meltzer, and Paul Scott. An arraignment is set for July 12th.” (Michigan House Resolution #313 was released around July 21st – Here’s the PDF document link.  “A resolution to express strong disappointment over the recent assault on first amendment freedom of speech rights with the arrest of four individuals at the Arab Festival in Dearborn and to urge the Michigan Attorney General to investigate the matter.”)

[Side note: apparently the City of Dearborn has received over 5,000 email letters (and/or phone calls) of inquiry from people around the country.]

On July 9th, (on Facebook) we posted Mayor John O’Reilly’s response letter (PDF) which begins: “Please consider the following before condemning us. The City of Dearborn has been under attack for several years by a group identifying themselves as Acts 17 Apologetics. They arrive in Dearborn with the intent to disrupt a local cultural festival and misrepresent facts in order to further their mission of raising funds through emotional response. The funds they raise are then used to finance travel and cameras to disrupt other events in other cities.”  (Updated 8-May-2013:  The document PDF letter from Mayor O’Reilly was removed a condition of  settlement of this issue announced on 6-May-2013.)

The City of Dearborn maintains that the arrests at the Arab Festival are a matter of public safety, and not First Amendment issues.

Up to this point, we had only published short blurbs on our Facebook page — and finally on July 12th, we published our first short article about the arraignment of the four Christian apologists in Dearborn, after the arraignment.

On or about July 14th, the Dearborn police released video footage that had been confiscated at the time of the arrests on June 18th. A chronology of events or timeline has been posted by Acts 17.  Dearborn police also have complete copies of the video footage which might be used in the upcoming trial. Dearborn police say the missionaries were looking to stir up the crowd at the annual festival. They could face fines of up to $500 each and up to 93 days in jail.

A heated debate about Free Speech and First Amendment rights has continued in Dearborn (and on the Internet) over the past few weeks, since the June 18 arrest and July 12th arraignment of four Christian apologists in Dearborn.  Pundits claim that Dearborn police violated the First Amendment rights of  four Christians, and are applying double standards in enforcing local ordinances that apply to “crowd control” and “free speech” at local festivals.

We applaud the Dearborn Police Department’s excellent record in  managing crowds at the annual Arab American Cultural Festivals and Homecoming events.  Many citizens agree that the City of Dearborn has legitimate concerns about crowd control at festivals (e.g. the recent trampling death of 21 people at the  German Love Parade in Europe).  However, not everyone agrees that first amendment rights are being protected (or fairly applied) and there is fear of  harassment by some visitors to Dearborn.

In a letter to the editor, Joe Carey of  California said:

“I will never return to Dearborn. My experience last year with the hostility I received, simply because I am a Christian and chose to share my belief with others, is unacceptable. It is unfortunate that the events of this year have tarnished the image of Dearborn, likely irreparably. But these events merely confirmed for me my impression after my experience last year:  that Dearborn is not a city that is tolerant, open to all, welcoming.”

Many  Dearborn citizens feel Mr. Carey has formed a mistaken impression of Dearborn (an impression that might be distorted by a one time event).  Some would argue that the offense is no more harmful then a mosquito bite. But just like the mosquito virus outbreak in Key West, Florida — the pain is real for the person injured — and might be a cause of  concern for the local Chamber of Commerce.  (“I will never go to Key West, Florida again. No way”,  said Jeanette Potter from Atlanta.)  As  stated in the Elrod v. Burns case, the loss of a First Amendment right, “for even minimal periods of time, unquestionably constitutes irreparable injury.” [Elrod v. Burns, 427 U.S. 347, 373 (1976).]

On July 27, 2010 – a Motion for a Bill of Particulars was filed with the City of Dearborn by Robert Muise of the Thomas More Law Center (TMLC).

We invited our readers to click on all the links in this editorial, do their own research, and form their own opinions. The court case is still pending, and our investigation is still ongoing. We invite your comments or letters to the editor.

Comments

  1. Timothy-Allen Albertson says

    IMHO any muslim seeking to suppress freedom of speech, or other person assisting a muslim to do so, should be declared an unlawful enemy combatant and transported to GITMO for trial by a military commission and punishment. At a minimum, anyone of these people, not a US Citizen, should be deported instantly/