A federal appeals court has come down on the side of a Christian evangelist who was barred by a Detroit suburb from handing out leaflets at an Arab-American street festival.
Dearborn and its police department had sought to restrict the areas where George Saieg could hand out flyers during the Arab International Festival on Warren Avenue last year.
Saieg, an Arab-American from California, was offered a free booth from which to distribute his literature but was prohibited from walking freely around the sidewalks to hand out flyers.
The literature in question related to the conversion of Muslims to Christianity.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Thursday that the restrictions on Saieg violated his rights to free speech and were unreasonable, given that pedestrians and vendors were able to use the sidewalks.
The 2-1 decision in the court means that the city and Police Chief Ronald Haddad could be held liable for damages.
Mayor John B. O'Reilly, Jr. said in a statement: "Since the festival chose to keep the sidewalks open for other business not related to the festival, the court ruled that the sidewalks had to be available for the material distribution: It is a narrow opinion, and one we will abide by."
The court’s decision overturns a ruling last year by a federal judge in Detroit which upheld the restrictions imposed by the city.
"Everybody should be pleased," Saieg's attorney, Robert Muise, was quoted as saying by The Associated Press.
"Dearborn is getting a pretty strong reputation as being the enemy of the First Amendment,” he said. “As long as they keep passing these draconian restrictions that violate the rights of everyone, we're going to challenge them."
Muise said the evangelist plans to attend the festival when it is held again June 17-19.
Also planning to make an appearance is inflammatory Florida pastor the Rev. Terry Jones, who triggered a wave of violent protests across the Middle East and parts of Asia when he participated in a Quran burning.