We’re disappointed to see that the Dearborn Police Department’s approach to freedom of expression during this weekend’s 14th annual Dearborn Arab International Festival has been, to put it nicely, thumbless. (“Christian group sues over access to Dearborn’s Arab festival”).
As a result, Richard Thompson of the Thomas More Law Center had to request a temporary restraining order on Wednesday from a federal district judge to keep Dearborn police from restricting the 90 volunteers to a single corner while the rest of the 250,000-300,000 festival-goers can roam freely.
Pastor George Saieg, of Arabic Christian Perspective, and 90 or so volunteers, were planning to return to the festival, as they’ve done for several years, to “walk . . through the festival’s four- to five-block area passing out literature promoting Christianity over Islam.” There’s never been any trouble because of ACP’s presence. I’m told that lots of other Christian groups attend the festival to evangelize each year, as well. According to Saieg, most of the festival-goers accept the literature gladly.
Saieg made the mistake of contacting Dearborn police to say how-de-do and inquire about the exact location of the festival. Next time he should just use Google it and leave the po-po out of it.
Dearborn P.D.'s Sergeant Jeff Mrowka took the call and said he’d get back to him, and then didn’t get back to him--never a good sign. Saieg had to call again, and--long story short-- Sergeant Jeff Mrowka told Saieg he and his 90-strong group would be restricted to a single street corner.
This would completely hinder ACP’s preference for mingling with festival-goers on the public sidewalks. It also violates the First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and freedom to exercise one’s religion.
Saieg explained this to Mrowka, but it made no impression. According to Saieg’s motion for a temporary restraining order, Mrowka replied “by stating that political parties and protesters are limited to a specific area.” Never mind that ACP are neither protesters nor a political party. When was the last time you won an argument with a cop?
Personally, I don’t think this is an example of a conspiracy between the Dearborn police and the imams to protect Dearborn’s Muslim Arabs from crusaders. I think it’s more likely an example of one-dimensional police thinking combined with the garden-variety flight reflex government officials and managers the world over practice to avoid making decisions. In this case, it would have taken all of 30 seconds to figure out that Saieg was right, and the police couldn’t just order festival volunteers that they could only talk about Jesus on one corner on east Dearborn.
Unfortunately, that was 30 seconds Mrowka's superiors at the Dearborn P.D.--Commander Joe Doulette and Chief Ronald Haddad didn’t think they had to spare, so shame on them.
Saieg made his mistake, too. He should never have called and told the police what he was up to, even though it was perfectly legal. In fact, he shouldn’t have called and told the police especially because it was perfectly legal, and ACP had done their evangelizing successfully for several years without any problems. For some policemen, if they think you’re asking permission to do something, they think it’s their duty to say no.
If you’re curious and not otherwise occupied, this will all be hashed out in the courtroom of Judge Nancy G. Edmunds tomorrow, Thursday, at 11:00 a.m. in the federal courthouse on Lafayette.