- (Photo: Acts 17 Apologetics)
The attorney who represented four street preachers accused of breaching the peace at an Arab festival said Monday that he plans to file a civil lawsuit against the city of Dearborn, Mich., following their acquittals last week.
"They (the missionaries) spent the night in jail for doing nothing but attend an Arab festival and dare discuss their faith. That can't happen in the United States," Robert Muise of the Thomas More Law Center said Monday morning on the Detroit-based radio station WJR-AM 760.
“The only way we can totally exonerate them is to get these nonsensical rules,” he added. “They have these Arab festival rules, but we also have the U.S. Constitution, and the Constitution trumps. And that’s what we’re going to assert in our civil lawsuit.”
On Friday, Nabeel Qureshi of Virginia, Negeen Mayel of California, and Paul Rezkalla and David Wood, both of New York, were all acquitted by a Dearborn jury of their breach of peace charges but Mayel was found guilty of failing to obey a police officer’s order.
The four evangelists – all associated with Acts 17 Apologetics Ministries – had been arrested back in June as they were attending the 15th Annual Dearborn Arab International Festival along with over 300,000 from across the country, Canada, and the Middle East.
Though the preachers said they only conversed with people who approached them, one of the volunteers at the festival contacted the police and accused the four of disturbing the peace.
The volunteer, Roger Williams of Florida, said last Wednesday in his testimony that the group made him "nervous" and that he "felt intimidated." Though Williams’ complaint was the only one police reportedly received, the four preachers were approached and soon after arrested.
Notably, only one – Qureshi – had actually been engaged in “civilized” conversations with those who recognized him from the year before or those who caught sight of his shirt, which read “Jesus Always Loves You.” Two others – Wood and Rezkalla – were only videotaping the dialogues. The fourth – 18-year-old Mayel – was also videotaping, but doing so from afar.
Mayel, who said she was standing around 100 feet away from the others, was charged with failure to obey a police officer's order after Cpl. Brian Kapanowski told her to put down the camera and she instead held her camera in place as she backed away from him.
"When someone is a subject of an investigation, they have to stop what they're doing and answer my questions," Kapanowski told jurors Wednesday, according to the Detroit Free Press.
The street preachers, however, say Mayel wanted to continue filming for her own safety.
“Negeen didn’t want to turn off the camera because she knew that we had been assaulted numerous times last year by festival security,” Wood explained Saturday in the ministry’s blog.
Furthermore, the preachers have pointed out that it was because of last year's incident that they decided to take three cameras with them to this year's festival.
And, as it turns out, the footage the preachers took was exactly what they needed to win their case last week as the testimonies of the police officers and festival volunteers conflicted with what was filmed.
“We had everything documented all the way through, and thank goodness we did, because when you hear what the testimonies of the police officers were and some of the festival volunteers, then you matched it to what the video was, it’s two separate stories,” Muise pointed out.
“It’s a pretty sad state of affairs when you have to go to an Arab festival and have three cameras with you to exonerate yourself from false claims, false charges, which is exactly what happened in this case,” he added.
Knowing that Acts 17 will be attending next year’s festival, Muise said the next step to exonerate the preachers’ constitutional rights is to take civil rights action against the city, whose mayor said he respected the jury’s decision but maintained that the preachers’ actions are unconstitutional.
“It's really about a hatred of Muslims,” Dearborn Mayor Jack O’Reilly told the Detroit Free Press after the verdict was released. “That is what the whole heart of this is.”
“Their idea is that there is no place for Muslims in America. They fail to understand the Constitution," he added.
In response, Muise said the mayor’s remarks were “utter nonsense.”
“If there was anyone who failed to understand the Constitution, it was the city of Dearborn,” the attorney added.
With nearly 30,000 out of its 98,000 inhabitants believed to be Arab Muslims, the city of Dearborn is one of the most densely populated Arab Muslim communities in the United States.
The city is located seven miles west of Detroit.