Dearborn hosts an annual Arab Festival on Warren Avenue. During the festival, the street is reserved, but the adjacent sidewalks are not reserved and therefore remain public property. Hence, prior to 2009, many people would distribute pamphlets, DVDs, CDs, etc., on the public sidewalks. However, when Ronald Haddad took over as Chief of Police, he announced that no one would be allowed to distribute materials on the public sidewalks. Indeed, he insisted that no one would be allowed to distribute materials within five blocks of the festival. (He justified his decision by claiming that he needed to keep the area clear for pedestrian traffic.)
From a Constitutional perspective, this was quite disturbing, as the government was officially limiting free speech on public sidewalks. Moreover, those of us who attended the festival noticed that security only enforced the policy on Christians. Muslims remained free to distribute their materials.
Pastor George Saieg, an Arab Christian from the Sudan (who has observed the effects of Islamic law in his home country and therefore understands the importance of free speech better than many of us) decided to take the case to court. The freedom fighters at the Thomas More Law Center (praise God for them) took the case free of charge, and they won.
Lower courts had ruled in favor of Dearborn (i.e. that Dearborn police could stop people from exercising their freedom of speech on the public sidewalks adjacent to the festival). The appeals court reversed the decision on Constitutional grounds. Here are two excerpts:
On the free speech claim, we REVERSE the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the defendants and its denial of summary judgment to the plaintiffs. We thereby invalidate the leafleting restriction within both the inner and outer perimeters of the Festival.1 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. Moreover, the prohibition of pedestrian leafleting in the outer perimeter is not narrowly tailored to the goal of isolating inner areas from vehicular traffic. The City can be held liable because the Chief of Police, who instituted the leafleting restriction, created official municipal policy. . . .
The leafleting restriction is not a reasonable time, place, and manner restriction. In the inner perimeter, the restriction does not serve a substantial governmental interest. In the outer perimeter, the restriction is not narrowly tailored. The defendants therefore violated Saieg’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Absent an injunction, Saieg will continue to suffer irreparable injury for which there is no adequate remedy at law. As a result, on the free-speech claim, we REVERSE both the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the defendants and its denial of summary judgment to the plaintiffs.
Interestingly, the court even recognized that the penalty for leaving Islam is death. They state:
In 2009, Saieg had planned for 90 ACP members to continue the practice of leafleting while roaming the Festival. However, when Saieg shared these plans with a City police sergeant, Saieg learned that the new Chief of Police, Chief Haddad, would not permit anyone to distribute leaflets while walking around the Festival. Instead, the City provided the ACP with a booth, waiving the standard fee. The booth was poorly lit and located by carnival rides, which attracted mostly children. This problem was remedied in 2010, when the ACP’s booth was lit and located “in the central area.” Saieg v. City of Dearborn, 720 F. Supp. 2d 817, 834–35 (E.D. Mich. 2010) (describing then- upcoming plans for the 2010 festival). Saieg also faces a more basic problem with booth-based evangelism: “[t]he penalty of leaving Islam according to Islamic books is death,” which makes Muslims reluctant to approach a booth that is publicly “labeled as . . . Christian.” R. 48 (Ex. A: Saieg Dep. at 75). Saieg believes that evangelism is more effective when he can roam the Festival and speak to Muslims more discreetly. The ACP distributed 37,000 packets of religious materials in 2007 and 20,000 packets in 2008, but only 500 packets in 2009 due to the remote, fixed location. Numbers from 2010 are not in the record. (Click here to read the entire ruling.)
Hence, at the festival next month, police will no longer be permitted to interfere with Constitutionally protected free speech activities. Additionally, the city may now be held liable for damages to anyone whose rights were violated by police at the festivals. That has profound implications for our own case against the city, which is based, in part, on the following incident:
The ruling will also apply to many other people:
I wonder how long the city is going to put up with officials like Chief Haddad, Mayor John O'Reilly, Judge Mark Somers, Prosecuting Attorney William DeBiasi, and others, who apparently have no respect whatsoever for the Constitution, and are responsible for numerous lawsuits against Dearborn. Are the citizens of Dearborn going to continue letting their leaders destroy their city's reputation? Or will they eventually elect leaders who will champion the Constitution and fix the damage that's been done? Only time will tell.
For more on Dearborn, click here.
Now that we're allowed to distribute materials, please support our outreach this year:
***UPDATE*** Thomas More Law Center posted a press release:
The U. S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today that Sudanese Christian Pastor George Saieg has a free speech right to distribute religious literature on public sidewalks and evangelize Muslims during the Annual Arab International Festival held each year in Dearborn, Michigan.
For five years Saieg, who specifically ministers to Muslims, had been discussing his Christian faith and passing out literature on Dearborn’s sidewalks during the Festival without encountering any problems. Nevertheless, in 2009 police officials informed him he had to remain in a booth, prohibiting him from distributing his literature on the nearby sidewalks and public streets.
Dearborn is one of the most densely populated Muslim communities in the United States. It has the largest Mosque in North America. 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.
The Thomas More Law Center (TMLC), a national conservative Christian public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, filed the federal lawsuit on behalf of Pastor Saieg in 2009, naming the City of Dearborn and its police chief, Ronald Haddad, as defendants. The case was handled by TMLC Senior Trial Counsel Rob Muise.
In ruling for Saieg, the court recognized the problem Saieg had with booth-based evangelizing: “the penalty of leaving Islam according to Islamic books is death,” which makes Muslims reluctant to approach a booth that is publically “labeled as … Christian.”