Christian Missionaries Arrested at Muslim Festival in Dearborn

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Journalist

In what many are describing as police enforcement of Shari’a law at a Muslim festival last weekend, the Thomas More Law Center has agreed to represent four Christians who were arrested for peacefully proselytizing at the event.

“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,” said Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center (TMLC).

The incident occurred on the evening of June 18 when Nabeel Qureshi, David Wood, Paul Rezkalla and 18-year-old Negeen Mayel attended the 15th annual Dearborn Arab International Festival in Dearborn, Mich., where an estimated 30,000 of the city’s 98,000 residents are Muslim.

Qureshi and Mayal are former Muslims who are now Christians. Mayal’s parents emigrated from Afghanistan. Wood is a former atheist. All are from a Christian group called Acts 17 Apologetics.

In a video made after their arrest, Qureshi recounted what happened at the Festival.

“At one point, we came across a festival volunteer who seemed to take issue with us simply being at the festival. We could tell he had a problem with us, and so we asked ‘What are we doing wrong?’ He said, ‘Put the camera and microphone down, and I’ll tell you.’ (By the way, there was more to this conversation, but when you see the footage, I think you’ll see I’m being fair in my summary.) So I obliged, handing the microphone to David and asking him to not record the man. I then approached him and said, ‘No camera, no mic, tell me what we’re doing wrong.’ He said ‘Get away from me!’ (or something to that effect). Again, I obliged, and walked away.

“About 20 minutes later, to shouts and cheers of ’Allahu Akbar!’ we were all being led away from the festival in handcuffs. From the brief description we were given by the police of why we were being arrested, it sounds like the festival volunteer said we surrounded him and didn’t give him an opportunity to leave, thereby ‘breaching the peace.’ This is as blatantly false as an accusation can get.”

After the event, David Wood spoke about the event to Atlas Shrugs. “We followed the rules, and still got thrown in jail. They flat out lied about us. We can prove they lied with the video footage (just like last year), but the police took our cameras and won’t let us have the footage. There’s major oppression of anyone who criticizes Islam.”

One bystander, Steven Atkins of Toronto, Canada, told Continental News: “I never thought I would see this in America. When Dr. Quereshi was arrested I heard people clapping and applauding, and some said ‘Allahu Akbar,'” he said. “It was an intense discussion, but it was not unruly. … There was no threat of violence.”

He added, “It’s becoming more restrictive here than in Canada.”

Dearborn Police Chief Ron Haddad, an officer who was recently appointed to serve on the Homeland Security Advisory Council, told the Detroit Free Press the four Christians were arrested for disorderly conduct.

“We did make four arrests for disorderly conduct,” Haddad said. “They did cause a stir.”

Haddad insisted that he was not taking sides. “Everyone’s space should be respected,” he said. “It’s Father’s Day weekend. … People are here to have a good time, and it’s our job to ensure security.”

Lawyers for the four Christians see things differently.

“Contrary to the comments made by Police Chief Ron Haddad, our Constitution does not allow police to ban the rights of free speech just because there are some hecklers,” Thompson said. “Not all police officers approve of the way their department treated these Christians.”

A letter was faxed to Chief Haddad on June 21 demanding that the three video cameras and tapes that were illegally seized from the missionaries be immediately returned.

TMLC is also representing Pastor George Saieg, a Sudanese Christian who was confronted by police at last year’s Festival and threatened with arrest for handing out information near the event. At that time, the Thomas More Law Center filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the restriction. Saieg and his volunteers for many years had passed out literature in Dearborn without incident before the crackdown in recent years.

An appellate judge recently ruled in his favor.
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