Appeals Court Upholds Free Speech Rights of Christian at Muslim Event

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Journalist

The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Thursday that the city of Dearborn and its police department violated the free-speech rights of a Christian evangelist who was barred from handing out leaflets at an Arab-American street festival last year.

According to the Thomas More Law Center, which represented the plaintiff in the case, the judges ruled in favor of a Sudanese Christian pastor named Geoge Saieg. Saieg had been handing out pamphlets aimed at evangelizing the Muslim population at the annual Festival for five years before police stopped him in 2009. At that time, he was told that he had to distribute his material from a booth rather than walk the streets. Saieg resisted these restrictions, saying it would curtail his efforts to evangelize because Muslims would be far less likely to approach a “Christian” booth than to receive a piece of literature.

The city of Dearborn has one of the most densely populated Muslim communities in the United and the Saieg case highlighted what many saw as a drive by local authorities to cater to the community by essentially allowing the application of Sharia law in this case. Sharia law bans proselytism and perceives it as a major threat to the coherence and cohesion of umma (i.e. the global Muslim community) because it can lead to ridda (apostasy from Islam).

In the past few years Dearborn has gained national attention for taking a pro-Muslim stance and for the arrest and intimidation of Christian evangelists for engaging in protected speech activity.

However, this time the Appeals Court put a stop to it.

“We thereby invalidate the leafleting restriction within both the inner and outer perimeters of the Festival,” the court ruled. “The restriction on the sidewalks that are directly adjacent to the Festival attractions does not serve a substantial government interest. The City keeps those same sidewalks open for public traffic and permits sidewalk vendors, whose activity is more obstructive to sidewalk traffic flow than pedestrian leafleting is.”

They went on to say that “the City can be held liable because the Chief of Police, who instituted the leafleting restriction, created official municipal policy.”

“Everybody should be pleased,” said TMLC attorney Robert Muise, who represented Saieg. “Dearborn is getting a pretty strong reputation as being the enemy of the First Amendment. As long as they keep passing these draconian restrictions that violate the rights of everyone, we’re going to challenge them.”

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