A Christian law firm is backing a group of street preachers that was arrested last week after engaging in conversations with attendees of a large Arab festival.
The Thomas More Law Center announced Tuesday that it was representing Negeen Mayel, Dr. Nabeel Qureshi, Paul Rezkalla, and David Wood in light of their arrests Friday. The law firm also said it was demanding that police in Dearborn, Mich., return the video cameras and tapes they seized on the opening night of the 15th Annual Dearborn Arab International Festival, which drew hundreds of thousands from across the country, Canada and the Middle East.
"These Christian missionaries were exercising their Constitutional rights to free speech and the free exercise of religion, but apparently the Constitution carries little weight in Dearborn, where the Muslim population seems to dominate the political apparatus," remarked Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of TMLC.
"It's apparent that these arrests were a retaliatory action over the embarrassing video of the strong arm tactics used last year by Festival Security Guards," Thompson added. "This time, the first thing police officers did before making the arrests was to confiscate the video cameras in order to prevent a recording of what was actually happening."
According to eyewitness accounts, several individuals engaged in "civilized" conversations with Qureshi over the course of that evening after having recognized him from the year before or from catching sight of his shirt, which read "Jesus Always Loves You."
"We made sure that the only people we talked to were people who first approached us. And this was to limit accusations of instigation and disruption," Qureshi noted after Friday's incident. "We knew people have a tendency to accuse us of being disruptive, of inciting, and instigating. So we wanted to make sure we did absolutely nothing of the sort."
Despite the extra steps of precautions and the eventually-amicable nature of the conversations, the four were accused by passerbys of disturbing the peace and soon after arrested by police. Notably, however, only one – Qureshi – had been engaged in conversation. Two others – Wood and Rezkalla – had not said a word and were only videotaping the dialogue. The fourth – 18-year-old Mayel – was also videotaping, but doing so from afar.
"I'm 18-years-old, I've had no record, and now I'm being hauled off to jail for holding a camera at this Dearborn festival," remarked Mayel, who said she was standing around 100 feet away from the other three.
In response to the actions of the police, TMLC Senior Trial Counsel Robert Muise faxed a letter to Dearborn Police Chief Ron Haddad on Monday, demanding that the three video cameras and tapes illegally seized from the street preachers be immediately returned.
TMLC's Thompson also noted that the U.S. Constitution "does not allow police to ban the right of free speech just because there are some hecklers."
"Not all police officers approve of the way their department treated these Christians," he added.
Aside from the four preachers, TMLC is also representing Pastor George Saeig, who was prohibited by the festival and police authorities from distributing religious material at last year's festival.
One day before the start of this year's festival, a three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals allowed Saeig to distribute religious literature and discuss his Christian faith to Muslims attending the three-day Arab festival while his case is pending on appeal.
Saeig, a Sudanese pastor, founded Arabic Christian Perspective (ACP), which has been attending the festival for the past 5-6 years.
The four preachers arrested last Friday, meanwhile, are associated with Acts 17 Apologetics Ministries, a ministry led by a former Muslim and a former atheist – Qureshi and Wood, respectively.
Located seven miles west of Detroit, Dearborn, Mich., is one of the most densely populated Arab Muslim communities in the United States. Nearly 30,000 out of city's 98,000 inhabitants believed to be Arab Muslims.