For the last five years, Pastor George Saieg and scores of his volunteers have visited Dearborn, Michigan during its annual Dearborn Arab International Festival to pass out religious literature and discuss their Christian Faith. Pastor Saieg is a Sudanese Christian, and Founder and Director of the Arabic Christian Perspective (ACP), which ministers to Muslims.
Dearborn happens to be one of the most densely populated Muslim communities in the United States. An estimated 30,000 of its 98,000 residents are Muslims.
Even though there has never been a disruption of the public peace during this Christian ministry, last week Dearborn police officials told Pastor Saieg that he and his group are prohibited from freely traveling the public sidewalks to distribute their literature outside the festival. They must remain at a specific location.
As a result, the Thomas More Law Center, a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and the Becker Law Firm based in Los Angeles, California, the general counsel for ACP, filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Dearborn’s policy. The lawsuit was filed only after attempts were made to amicably assert Pastor Saieg’s constitutional rights to free speech. Click here to read the complaint.
Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, commented, “It’s ironic that while Americans are applauding the free speech exercised by hundreds of thousands of Muslims on the streets of Iran, the City of Dearborn is restricting free speech rights Christians are attempting to exercise on the City’s public sidewalks.”
The conflict arose when Pastor George Saieg called the City of Dearborn to find out when the festival was to begin. He was then told on June 9th that his group would be confined to a predetermined location. Pastor Saieg questioned the constitutional validity of this restriction, especially considering his group had attended the Dearborn Festival many times in the past without incident.
Late this morning, Federal District Court Judge Nancy Edmonds denied an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order (TRO) prohibiting Dearborn from restricting Pastor Saieg and his group from passing out Christian literature on the public sidewalks. The Festival will be held for only 3 days, beginning tomorrow, Friday, June 19, 2009, and lasting through Sunday, June 21.
Thomas More Law Center attorney Robert J. Muise argued the motion before Judge Edmonds on behalf of Pastor George Saieg and the Arabic Christian Perspective (ACP). Despite the TRO ruling, the lawsuit will proceed. According to Muise, “This case involves an important constitutional question regarding the government’s ability to prohibit peaceful speech activities. This preliminary ruling, while disappointing, will not affect the remainder of the case. We intend to pursue this as far as necessary.”