Getty Images By: David McNew

This morning I read an article that is an interesting case involving the 1st amendment, religion, free speech and Dearborn MI.

It all started in June of 2012 at the Arab International Festival in Dearborn Michigan.

According to the article in the Detroit Free Press, “a group of Christian evangelists from California claims that Wayne County sheriff's deputies failed to protect them when an angry crowd hurled water bottles, eggs, chunks of concrete and other objects at the Arab International Festival in Dearborn.’

Now there is something you need to know according to the article “an attorney for the Wayne County Sheriff's Office said the group, known for its provocative protests, was inciting a riot by carrying a pig's head mounted on a pole and shouting rhetoric attacking Islam.”

I do not approve of this “evangelist” group doing what they did, in fact I believe they went there to instigate and antagonize the people attending the festival.

The problem is I do not believe that the people attending the Arab Festival needed to become physical and attack this group.  Violence is not an answer, I would have let these fools do what they were going to do and show everyone in attendance how anti-Christian they really are.

The full U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati will hear arguments on whether a lawsuit by the Bible Believers can proceed against Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon and two deputies today.

What is interesting about this case is that it involves issues of free speech, religion and a group trying to antagonize their opponents into action.

The questions that I see that are involved in this case are as follows:

  • Are there any situations in which we would need to carve out an exemption to the first amendment and “abridging the freedom of speech”?
  • If a group goes to an event to antagonize and provoke the people putting the event on, does that change your mind about the 1st amendment and free speech issue?
  • Even though you think the “evangelists” were provocative and downright stupid for what they did, does that mean the right to assemble and free speech is curtailed?
  • Does it matter that the Wayne County Police were just trying to “protect public safety”?  That is why they asked the group to leave.

According to the Detroit Free Press article the following is what occurred:

When Ruben Chavez of California and his fellow Bible Believers rolled out onto Warren Avenue for the festival — one of the largest annual outdoor gatherings for Arab Americans in the U.S. — the police were out in force.

The Wayne County Sheriff's Office had 53 officers on the scene plus six horses. At the previous year's festival, the Bible Believers' presence generated shouting matches and occasional physical fights with tall signs and rhetoric attacking Islam while they rallied. The Bible Believers had sent a letter to them a few months earlier, asking for police protection in case of violence.

Chavez, also known as Ruben Israel, was their leader, a barrel-chested bald man with a wide goatee who often provokes groups — Catholics, gays, Mormons, Mardi Gras revelers — with his evangelical message. In 2012, he brought a pig's head to try to deliberately offend Muslims, who avoid pork and see pigs as unclean. Along with the pig were signs denigrating Islam and its prophet, Mohammed.

Soon, Chavez and his crew were attacked. He suffered a bloodied forehead, a gash that, ironically, appeared in the shape of a cross. They retreated as the debris flew at them, asking police for help.

But instead of helping to protect them, police asked the group to leave, video of the incident showed.

According to the Detroit Free Press article the Michigan branch of the ACLU filed a legal brief in support of the Bible Believers.

Also as reported in the artcle:

Robert Sedler, a professor of constitutional law at Wayne State University who often teaches about First Amendment issues, also agrees that the rights of the Bible Believers were violated.

"The basic principle is that police have the responsibility to protect the speakers," Sedler said. "The speakers aren't doing anything wrong. The threat of violence or disorder is coming from the crowd. Under the First Amendment, the police have a duty to restrict the crowd."

"If we allow hostile groups to stifle speech, we fall into the same trap that we had with Nazis in Germany. That's how they tried to stifle the opposition, by trying to inflict violence on their opponents who were speaking out."

The lawyer for the Wayne County police wrote in court filing the following: "Governmental entities retain the right to regulate the use of public streets to protect legitimate government interests in maintaining public order and avoiding violence."  He also went on to say in his court filings the police  "reacted to the violent situation with their primary concern being public safety and was not in response to any particular message that the Bible Believers were conveying at the festival."

What are your thoughts about this issue and the questions I posed?

Are there other questions you would ask?