A three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit voted to review a case that claims police officers in a Michigan town failed to protect the freedom of speech for 12 evangelizing Christian street preachers who were pelted with stones and water bottles by a crowd of Muslims while preaching at an Arab festival in 2012.
Although the same court voted 2-1 in August that police officers in the town of Dearborn did not violate the free speech of the the preaching group that calls itself the Bible Believers, the court voted in favor of a review, which is a rare occurrence and, according to 6th circuit rules, "intended to bring to the attention of the entire court a precedent setting error of exceptional public importance."
Ruben Israel, a Los Angeles based street preacher who organized the Bible Believers' mission to Dearborn and filed the initial lawsuit against Wayne County, said that the fact the appeals court is reviewing the case is a sign that they will help "set the record straight" when it comes to protecting the rights of "unpopular" speech in America.
"We had to get [the case] out of Dearborn and we had to get it out of Detroit. Now, since the circuit has picked it up, we believe and trust that they will set the record straight," Israel said in an interview with The Christian Post. "Free speech sometimes may not be very gracious. But there is something called 'the hecklers veto.' That is when you can say something very unpopular and it is protected. We believe that since the circuit wants to and has gone ahead and picked it up, now we believe that we have a pulse. We are thankful for our court system that we still have the appeal case and that's working."
In June of 2012, Israel and his band of street preachers embarked on the majority Muslim town of Dearborn, a Michigan town with an Arab population of over 40,000, to preach the Gospel to attendees of an annual Arab festival in the town. Israel says the reason why the group initially went to the festival is because they had heard of a group of Christians that had previously gone to the event to hand out fliers, but were arrested.
Although the group of street preachers had previously attended the event, 2012 was when they received the stiffest backlash from the Muslim attendees. The group held up signs. One sign read "Trust Jesus," while other signs mentioned Hell and claimed Islam to be a "false religion." Israel even admits to bringing a dead pig's head, which he claimed was for safety reasons, not to incite violence.
Although they came to preach, Israel said the crowd got so riled up over the signs and the police wouldn't let them use their megaphone so it made it hard to preach the Word.
"We have been evangelizing like his for over 30 years. We went out there just to illustrate, there is a difference between Christianity and Islam," Israel said. "A Muslim will primarily tell you they believe in Jesus. They do believe him as a prophet, but they reject him as the Son of God. We wanted to make that very clear [at the festival] that if you reject the Son, you reject the Father."
Israel says that as the crowd got angrier a bunch of kids and teenagers began to throw stones and water bottles and other various items at the preachers in a "stoning" process that lasted over an hour and a half. He said the parents were in the background provoking their kids to keep throwing. He said he even recieved a cut to his forhead by one of the blows.
Even though Israel said the police officers confronted the situation, every time the cops would come, the pelting stopped. When the police went away, the pelting continued. After the police officers threatened to arrest they decided to leave.
"I told [the police officer] that we were already getting pelted with water bottles and he says 'oh that's Ok, we will keep an eye out for you.' He turned around and he walked away. Of course, that was it," Israel said. "The police did confront us several times. Every time they came to talk to us and tell us that we had to leave, everything got stopped. Once they walked away, it just turned around and did the same thing all over again.
"The last time we were there they threatened to arrest us. We were the ones that were threatened with arrest."