Group demonstrates for free speech
Demonstrators gather July 26 on the steps of Dearborn City Hall to protest the arrests of four evangelists for allegedly breaching the peace at the Arab International Festival in June. In the foreground Dearborn attorney and protest organizer Majed Moughni (wearing black suit) talks to a reporter. Moughni, who is running for Congress, said the evangelists’ free speech rights were violated.
By J. PATRICK PEPPER
DEARBORN — The controversy surrounding the arrests of four Christian evangelicals at the June Arab International Festival continued last week as protestors lined the steps of City Hall — with plans for more t demonstrations to come.
About 25 people showed up for the July 26 demonstration, coming from as far away as Monroe and, in one case, Arizona. Equally as far-flung were their reasons for coming.
Protest organizer Majed Moughni, a Muslim, said he called for the event because he believes Dearborn police on June 18 violated the First Amendment rights of missionaries Nabeel Qureshi, Negeen Mayel, Paul Rezkalla and David Wood by arresting them for disorderly conduct.
Moughni, an attorney running as a Republican for 15th District U.S. Representative, said videos of the arrests released by the group don’t seem to show any disorderly conduct.
“Whether or not we agree with the (religious) message doesn’t matter,” Moughni said. “These people were engaged in free speech, which is protected by the United States Constitution.”
Moughni has been a vocal critic of the arrests since they happened, a view counter to many in the local Muslim community. At the protest, he acknowledged that his stance could cost him some votes from one of his core constituencies in Tuesday’s primary election. But winning the election takes a back seat to exposing what he believes is a fundamental injustice, Moughni said.
To that end, and contrary to campaign convention, instead of spending all day Tuesday working for last-minute votes, Moughni said he would be in 19th District Court for a motion hearing for the evangelists.
“We need to stand up for free speech, and this issue is way more important than any election could ever be,” he said.
And while Moughni’s message focused on free speech, others were more concerned about what they saw as a case of religious persecution.
“I’m starting to wonder what happened to freedom of religion and freedom from persecution in this country,” said Westland resident Dorothy Wilkens.
Others seemed to interpret the incident as an example of increasing Islamic influence on Western culture.
With a knowing nod to the group of people surrounding him, an elderly white man said, “The Muslim mafia.”
Another man in the group nodded in agreement, saying, “They have to be stopped.” Both men declined to identify themselves or be interviewed further.
The arrested evangelists garnered attention and put Dearborn under the media lens last year for a YouTube video they created showing festival security escorting them off the fairgrounds for allegedly bothering attendees with religious debate. The group, known as Act 17 apologetics, said that amounted to suppressing free speech at a public place because the festival takes place on Warren Avenue.
The perception of censorship last year led them to return to the festival this year, they said in a YouTube video about their decision to return. Police officials said the four were arrested for gathering a crowd around them that appeared to be growing potentially riotous.
Group members say they were engaged in peaceful, levelheaded discussion, and that if anyone was being disorderly, it was the individuals that approached them.
Since the June 18 arrests, police and city officials have received nearly 5,700 complaints about the arrests via letters, e-mails and phone calls.