Criticism starts again
By J. PATRICK PEPPER
DEARBORN — A 19th District Court jury ruled Sept. 24 that four Christian missionaries were innocent of breaching the peace at the 2010 Arab International Festival.
The six-member jury returned the verdict less than an hour after closing arguments in the weeklong trial. Acquitted of the charges are evangelists Nabeel Quereshi, David Wood, Negeen Mayel and Paul Rezkalla.
The jury did find Mayel guilty of one count of failure to obey the lawful order of the police officer, a decision that the evangelists’ attorney, Robert Muise, said he would appeal. Muise also said in a previous interview that he plans to file a civil suit against the city once the criminal proceedings are wrapped up.
The group was arrested June 18 after an Arab Fest volunteer filed a complaint with police alleging they surrounded him, badgered him with questions and ignored his requests to be left alone, all while videotaping him.
The arrests were a flashpoint for controversy and resulted in more than 5,700 complaint letters, e-mails, and phone calls to City Hall from across the country. City officials said at the time that the arrests were a matter of public safety.
The general criticism against the city was that it was persecuting Christians to appease its large Muslim population and that it didn’t respect the First Amendment. With the jury’s verdict, the criticisms began anew.
City spokeswoman Mary Laundroche said in an e-mail Thursday that the city received 70 to 75 complaints since the verdict, although she noted it seemed “some people across the country are still encountering the issue for the first time, and weren’t really aware of the verdict.”
And after winning their innocence, David and Qureshi have made regular posts on their Website, answeringmuslims.com, critical of city officials under titles like “Does Dearborn Mayor John C. O’Reilly Approve of Stoning Women to Death?” and the decidedly less sensational “Blunder of Dearborn Judge Mark W. Somers gets Negeen Mayel convicted.”
Also joining the chorus was state Rep. Tom McMillin (R-Rochester Hills) who has railed against the city since the arrests were reported and has attended several of the court hearings.
“The city of Dearborn needs to be dealt with firmly … unless they plan to try to secede from the union and have their own laws,” he said in a statement. ”This is the United States of America, and we here in the USA have something called freedom of speech. Dearborn, get used to it!”
City officials have maintained their stance that the evangelists were attending the festival only to seek confrontation for video exploitation over the Internet.