Thursday, October 29, 2015

6th Circuit En Banc: 1st Amendment Protects Christian Proselytizers At Dearborn's Arab International Festival

In a case that generated six separate opinions spanning some 65 pages, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, sitting en banc, yesterday upheld the right of Bible Believers, a Christian group, to engage in provocative and offensive proselytizing of Muslims at the annual Dearborn, Michigan Arab International Festival. In Bible Believers v. Wayne County, Michigan, (6th Cir., Oct. 28, 2015), the majority described the Christian group's messages displayed on banners and T-shirts to a predominately Muslim crowd, many of who were adolescents. Among the slogans were: “Islam Is A Religion of Blood and Murder”; “Only Jesus Christ Can Save You From Sin and Hell”; and “Turn or Burn”. One member of the group also carried a severed pig's head on a spike, believing that Muslims are "petrified of that animal." After several encounters with hostile crowds, Bible Believers were escorted out of the Festival by police and ticketed.

Judge Clay's opinion of the court, joined in full by 7 other judges, concluded:
Ultimately, we find that Defendants violated the Bible Believers’ First  Amendment rights because there can be no legitimate dispute based on this record that the [Wayne County Sheriff's Office] effectuated a heckler’s veto by cutting off the Bible Believers’ protected speech in response to a hostile crowd’s reaction.
Several of the judges writing separate opinions concluded, contrary to the majority, that defendants at least enjoyed qualified immunity from damages.  Detroit News reports on the decision.