Christian convert fights German authorities over Bible verse sticker

Jalil Mashali
Jalil Mashali | ADF International

A taxi driver in Essen, Germany, is contesting a fine imposed by local authorities for displaying a Bible verse sticker on his vehicle, which reads "Jesus – I am the way. The truth. And the life," sparking a debate over religious expression and advertising laws.

The sticker led to Jalil Mashali being fined for what the city deemed unlawful "religious advertising," the rights group ADF International said Wednesday.

Mashali, a Christian convert from Iran, is challenging the fine with ADF International's help, arguing that the sticker is a personal expression of faith rather than advertising.

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In October 2023, Mashali received a notice from the Essen road traffic authority, threatening a fine of up to 1,000 euros, or $1,085, for the sticker. He has refused to remove it, leading to a demand for a fine and fees totaling 88.50 euros.

Mashali says the sticker is an expression of his convictions, not advertising. He has lived in Germany for 22 years, having moved from Iran, where he was born and raised as a devout Muslim. His conversion to Christianity followed a significant personal experience that he attributes to the power of prayer and faith, making the sticker a symbol of his spiritual journey.

Mashali was injured severely in a bus accident in Iran. After the loss of his lower left leg, he suffered from chronic pain. When he was 33, he sought medical treatment in Germany. After 20 surgeries, the pain remained and he became suicidal. He found healing after a Christian woman prayed for him. He says the pain in his leg ceased after the prayer, inspiring him to become a Christian. 

"Jesus is the best thing I could recommend to anyone because he changed my life," Mashali said. "That's why I have the sticker on my car for anyone who is interested to see. I'm not looking to cause trouble, but I haven't done anything wrong. I am grateful for this country where everyone should be free to share their faith. I hope to be able to continue to do so by appealing the unjust fine."

Essen authorities argue that the sticker violates a local ordinance against religious advertising on taxis, a stance rooted in a 1998 Federal Constitutional Court ruling. However, Mashali and his supporters contest this interpretation, asserting that the sticker falls within his rights to express personal beliefs.

"In a free society, the government should not be silencing peaceful expressions of faith," said Dr. Lidia Rieder, a legal officer for ADF International. "Jalil's actions are protected by the basic human right to freedom of religion, which includes the right to share one's deeply held convictions with others. The state must refrain from unjustly interfering with this freedom."

The case has garnered attention from various advocacy groups and media outlets.

Reports from Radio Essen indicate that Mashali may face a fine of 10,000 euros if he refuses to comply, according to the rights group The Emergency Committee to Save the Persecuted and Enslaved.

"The repercussions for Mashali are significant, with the possibility of dismissal as a taxi driver if he refuses to remove the text, as his car is deemed unfit for German roads," the rights group notes. 

Mashali's appeal may have implications for how personal expressions of faith are treated in public spaces and professions in Germany and beyond.

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