Court rules that evangelist has the right to distribute Christian leaflets to Muslims in Michigan
A federal appeals court ruled recently that a Christian evangelist was denied his First Amendment rights when police in Dearborn, Mich., barred him from distributing leaflets on public streets at an Arab-American Festival.
The Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Pastor George Saieg of Ministry to Muslims, or M2M, was denied his right to free speech when Dearborn and its police department set unreasonable restrictions on his use of public sidewalks, The Christian Post said.
In a two-to-one decision, the court noted that vendors and pedestrians were allowed to use the sidewalks freely. Judges Eric Clay and Karen Nelson Moore said, “Absent an injunction, Saieg will continue to suffer irreparable injury for which there is no adequate remedy at law,” USA Today reported.
The dissenting judge, Martha Craig Daughtrey said that while the restrictions were “narrowly tailored,” they were still within reason, according to USA Today.
Last year, the Dearborn police tried to restrict the areas where Saieg, an Arab-American from California, could distribute flyers on Warren Avenue during its annual Arab International Festival.
Saieg was offered a free booth, but was told that he could not walk freely to hand out flyers, which were about the conversion of Muslims to Christianity, on the sidewalks, The Christian Post said.
For years, Saieg was free to distribute flyers at the Arab festival with no restrictions. However, things changed when Dearborn had a new police chief, Ron Haddad, in 2009. Haddad claimed that the restrictions on Saieg were implemented to control foot traffic.
With the two-to-one appeals court decision, the city of Dearborn and Haddad may be liable for damages, according to The Christian Post.
Of the incident, Saieg told Christian Newswire, “In Dearborn, MI, the Muslim call to prayer can be heard above the cacophony of street noise on an early June 2010 morning. Outside the local mosque, I was distributing Christian literature, ready to point Muslims toward the light and truth found in Jesus Christ.”
Maria, a member of M2M told Christian Newswire, “I realized I was allowing Satan to hold me back through fear. If you go in God’s power, it doesn’t matter how big the Goliath is…we prayed and worshipped, and then it was like watching the walls of Jericho fall down. Everybody wanted our material.”
Leaflets on the ground
Mayor John B. O’Reilly Jr., in a statement said, “Since the festival chose to keep the sidewalks open for other business not related to the festival, the court ruled that the sidewalks had to be available for the material distribution: It is a narrow opinion, and one we will abide by,” The Christian Post reported.
O’Reilly told USA Today that while he is “fine” with the ruling, he is also concerned about the cost that will be incurred in cleaning up leaflets that are left on the ground.
The appeals court ruling overturns a lower court ruling in Detroit. Robert Muise, Saieg’s attorney said, “Everybody should be pleased. 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,” The Christian Post reported.
Muise also said that Saieg will be at the Arab festival again this year from June 17-19. “Any public sidewalks are open and free game,” he told USA Today.
Saieg told Christian Newswire, “Muslims are here from all over the world and we want to reach out to them. This is the time to be equipped to reach them. Our prayer is that they will be touched by the Holy Spirit and their eyes will be opened to see the truth.”
M2M is also offering local training on June 11-12 for volunteers who would like to minister to Muslims, including lectures and workshops on how to reach out to Muslims and to answer their questions and objections, Christian Newswire said.