In Berger v. City of Seattle, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals recently reaffirmed the "bedrock principle" that the protections afforded by the First Amendment are "nowhere stronger than in streets and parks." This principle was given bluster in a case involving street performers, only one of whom complained that they were being too heavily regulated and could not perform wherever they liked.
As a First Amendment challenge, the case marks a victory for a narrow class of citizens not generally thought of as an oppressed class. Elsewhere, as one evangelical Christian group discovered last week, the same bedrock principle remains elusive to religious groups, which have traditionally been oppressed and whose speech rights were the inspiration for the protections enshrined in the First Amendment.
Arabic Christian Perspective ("ACP") is an Anaheim-based charitable organization that does something anyone but an evangelical Christian might think extremely foolish: its members and volunteers try to convert Muslims to Christianity by attending their events and gathering near – but not at – their mosques. Its soft-spoken founder and director, George Saieg, is from the Sudan, where he witnessed firsthand the persecution of Christians by Muslims before emigrating to the U.S. in 1996. An ordained minister with the Calvary Church of Santa Ana, California, Saieg fearlessly approaches his mission with zeal and a reverence for the Bill of Rights.
That approach surprisingly has led to numerous success stories. Surprising because the penalty of Muslim conversion to Christianity is death – all the more reason why ACP would wish to proceed with caution while carrying out its outreach efforts.