Does the First Amendment protect Christians who bring their message to Muslims at public events or in front of mosques? This is a good question, given the trend of missionaries being placed under arrest while proselytizing to followers of Islam — right here in the United States:
On June 18, four Christians were arrested for breach of peace at the Arab International Festival in Dearborn, Michigan. The group's videos show them engaging in reasoned debate with Muslims or merely roaming around, but one festival volunteer accused them of harassment, making him feel "nervous." According to the Detroit Free Press, "Police said the missionaries were arrested because they failed to obey police commands. Officers maintain the group's actions were a public safety issue because they caused a large number of people to gather in a small place." The trial is now in progress.
On July 3, two evangelicals in front of Philadelphia's Masjid Al-Jamia were arrested by University of Pennsylvania police officers for disorderly conduct and obstruction of a highway. Michael Marcavage says that a bicycle cop demanded that they cease preaching there. When backup arrived, Marcavage started to film. The Daily Pennsylvanian recounts: "He claimed that Officer Nicole Michel assaulted him and forcibly shut off his camera. Marcavage called 911 because 'the officer was out of control,' and began filming once more, at which point the police confiscated the device." He insists that they intentionally destroyed his footage. The trial is scheduled for November.
On August 30, Mark Holick was outside the Islamic Society of Wichita, Kansas, distributing "packets that included the Gospel of John and the Book of Romans in English and Arabic, [and] a DVD with testimonies of former Islamists who have come to the Lord," when police allegedly ordered him and a dozen others to move away from the building. He was then arrested for "loitering and failing to disperse." Holick wants the charges dropped.
At the core of all three cases is the principle that government or entities acting on its behalf cannot muzzle unpopular speech. Newt Gingrich sounds a more specific alarm: freedom is being sacrificed to Shari'a law's "intolerance against the preaching of religions other than Islam."
No American city epitomizes this concern as much as heavily Muslim Dearborn. Members of the same Christian group, Acts 17 Apologetics, were tossed from last year's Arab fest by abusive security personnel. Dearborn authorities attempted to curb the rights of a separate Christian organization to disseminate material at the 2009 event, restrictions later overturned by a federal appeals court. To add insult to injury, Mayor John B. O'Reilly Jr. recently declared that his city is "under attack" by Acts 17.
As the above cases move through the legal system, readers are welcome to educate Mayor O'Reilly (contact info here, area code is 313) about the one thing that truly is "under attack" in Dearborn and across America: the First Amendment.
September 24, 2010, Update: A Dearborn jury acquitted the four missionaries of breach of peace, while one of the four was found guilty of failure to obey a police officer. In response to the verdicts, Mayor O'Reilly smeared the Christians as haters and once against displayed abject ignorance of the U.S. Constitution.
May 1, 2011, Update: A new IW article describes the November 12, 2010, trial of the two preachers arrested in Philadelphia. They were acquitted on all counts.