Michigan City Paid Evangelists $300,000 in Lawsuit Settlement

A city in Michigan disclosed on Friday that it paid $300,000 to a group of Christian evangelists as part of a settlement for arresting them during the 2010 Arab International Festival under the charge of breaching the peace by sharing the Gospel with Muslim participants.

The City of Dearborn paid the amount to the American Freedom Law Center, the legal representative of the Acts 17 Apologetics ministry, the city said Friday in response to a public records request filed by the Detroit Free Press.

The city, home to one of the most densely populated Arab Muslim communities in the United States, announced on May 6 that it had reached a settlement with the Christian ministry and will publicly apologize for arresting its evangelists during the June 2010 festival, but chose not to disclose the settlement amount.

"The City of Dearborn regrets and apologizes for the decisions to arrest and prosecute David Wood, Nabeel Qureshi, and Paul Rezkalla and the hardship caused to everyone involved," read the official apology.

"Through this apology and its acceptance … the parties seek to build a bridge and to confirm to the community that members of all faiths are welcome in Dearborn to peacefully share their views and to engage in religious discussions."

As per the terms of the settlement, the city is required to post the apology on its website for three years in addition to removing a news release and letter on the website from Dearborn Mayor John O'Reilly that had criticized the ministry for "their attack on the City of Dearborn for having tolerance for all religions, including believers in the Koran."

Robert Muise, co-founder and senior counsel at the American Freedom Law Center, had filed a lawsuit on behalf of Acts 17 Apologetics. "For too long our clients have been vilified for simply exercising their constitutional right to evangelize on a public street during the Arab Festival," Muise said in a statement after the city announced the settlement. "And despite their acquittal, they continued to be treated as if they had committed a crime. With this settlement and apology, our clients have been vindicated and this dispute with the City will finally be put to rest."

In September 2010, a jury found Wood, Qureshi and Rezkalla not guilty of breaching the peace. However, another evangelist, Nabeel Qureshi, was found guilty of disobeying a police order.

A day before the 2010 festival, a three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decided to allow a Sudanese Christian pastor, George Saieg, to distribute religious literature and discuss his Christian faith to Muslim participants of the festival while his case was pending on appeal.

"The Sixth Circuit's quick response is a great victory for the First Amendment and a defeat for Dearborn's effort to cater to its large Muslim population by ignoring our Constitution," commented Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, in a statement after the federal court panel's decision.

Meanwhile, for the first time in 18 years, the American-Arab Chamber of Commerce, the organizers of the largest public gathering of Arab-Americans in the U.S., has canceled this year's annual festival, which was to be held June 14 until June 16.

At last year's festival, a group known as "Bible Believers" held a protest at the event with inflammatory imagery and remarks, leading to the arrest of 10 people. "You're going to burn in hell," a Christian protester reportedly told a participant. "Islam is a religion of blood and murder," read a poster. Another poster said, "Muhammad is a … liar, false prophet, murderer, child molesting pervert."

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