(Photo courtesy AFLC)
A federal judge in Michigan ruled Tuesday against a suit brought by a group of Christian evangelists who were attacked last year at the largest Arab gathering in the United States.
Judge Patrick J. Duggan decided that the group Bible Believers did not have a case against the Wayne County Sheriff's Office regarding the actions taken at an outbreak of violence at the Arab International Festival in Dearborn.
"Plaintiffs have cited no authority, and the Court has not located any, for the proposition that free speech rights categorically trump the authority of municipal entities to preserve order and protect public safety," wrote Duggan.
"The Court finds that the actual demonstration of violence here provided the requisite justification for [the Wayne County sheriffs'] intervention, even if the officials acted as they did because of the effect the speech had on the crowd."
Paula Bridges, press director for the Office of the Wayne County Sheriff Department, provided The Christian Post with a statement regarding the decision.
"Hearing that the judge determined the litigation had no merit is reassuring given that our personnel performed their duties in a manner that upheld their oaths to protect and serve. Today's action affirms our commitment to public safety which is our highest priority," said Bridges.
Last year, a group of Christian missionaries attended the Arab International Festival at Dearborn, Mich. Considered the largest gathering of Arabs in the United States, the event averages 250,000 visitors annually.
The group of evangelists, which included Ruben Israel of the website Official Street Preachers, held signs with inflammatory statements and shouted things like "You're going to burn in Hell."
As shown by a viral YouTube video, Bible Believers demonstrated on the perimeter of the festival and were attacked by counter-protesters who confronted them and threw trash and other objects at them.
With the help of the American Freedom Law Center, Bible Believers filed a lawsuit against Wayne County, the Wayne County Sheriff, and two Wayne County Deputy Chiefs for not only refusing to protect their group but also threatening to arrest them for disorderly conduct if they did not stop their activities and leave the festival.
AFLC filed an appeal immediately following Judge Duggan's decision.
Robert J. Muise, senior counsel and co-founder of AFLC, told The Christian Post that Tuesday's decision was "incorrect as a matter of fact and law."
"I do believe that this decision will encourage violence against Christian evangelists. The goal of the violent protestors was to silence the speech of the Christians, and they succeeded," said Muise.
"By not holding the government accountable for its unwillingness to adequately protect the free speech rights of the Christians in this case effectively rewards the violent behavior."