Christians Free to Pass Out Leaflets at Gay Pride Event, Not at Arab Festival

A Christian group in Missouri will be allowed to freely distribute religious literature at "gay pride" event this weekend after a federal judge ruled in their favor. Another Christian group in Michigan, however, was not so fortunate in its quest for free distribution at a recent Arab festival but is still hopeful for a favorable conclusion.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds denied a motion from Calif.-based ministry Arabic Christian Perspective (ACP) for a temporary restraining order that would have prohibited the city of Dearborn, Mich., from restricting the group from handing out literature during the Arab International Festival, which kicked off Friday and concluded Sunday.

Though ACP has visited Dearborn for the city's annual Arab International Festival for the past five years to pass out religious literature and discuss their Christian faith, this year the group was told that they had to remain at a specific location and not allowed to freely travel the public sidewalks to distribute their literature outside the festival.

Dearborn, with an estimated 30,000 of its 98,000 residents ascribing to Islam, happens to be one of the most densely populated Muslim communities in the United States.

"This case involves an important constitutional question regarding the government's ability to prohibit peaceful speech activities," noted Thomas More Law Center attorney Robert J. Muise, who argued the motion before Edmonds on behalf of ACP and its founder and director, Pastor George Saieg.

However, while Muise said the preliminary ruling was disappointing, he said it will not affect the remainder of the case.

 "We intend to pursue this as far as necessary," he stated.

Ironically, the ruling in ACP's case was delivered exactly one week after U.S. District Judge Henry Autrey issued an order allowing Apple of His Eye – a ministry of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod – to pass out leaflets at the upcoming St. Louis PrideFest, which will be held this weekend.

In Apple of His Eye's case, the ministry was threatened with arrest by St. Louis officials for handing out Christian literature and speaking about their faith at Tower Grove Park during the PrideFest event in June 2006.

In response, Rick Nelson of the American Liberties Institute filed a lawsuit and a motion for preliminary injunction on behalf of the ministry against the city of St. Louis.

As a result of the lawsuit, the city rescinded a part of its bylaws that bans literature distribution and is required to let police and PrideFest organizers know that handing out religious fliers is allowed.

"Christian groups shouldn't be prohibited from expressing their beliefs at public locations," said Nelson. "We are pleased with the court's decision to lift an unconstitutional ban on expression in these areas throughout the city, allowing members of Apple of His Eye to peacefully exercise their First Amendment right to free speech at the PrideFest event."

This year's St. Louis PrideFest will be held on June 27 and 28.