|Michiganistan: Christians must waive rights|
'Serial violator' of religious freedoms creates new hurdle for faithful
by Bob Unruh
Wednesday, April 04, 2012
A city described as a “serial violator” of religious rights that has been ordered to pay tens of thousands of dollars in attorneys’ fees in cases prompted by its actions against Christians has come up with a solution – demanding that people waive all their rights.
The demand has prompted another legal action, by the Thomas More Law Center on behalf of a controversial pastor who preaches on radical Islam, Shariah, same-sex “marriage” and other hot-button topics.
The lawsuit was filed this week in federal district court in Michigan against the city of Dearborn and its police chief over the city’s “new tactic” to stop Pastor Terry Jones from speaking out against Islamic law in the area. Dearborn has the largest population of Muslims in the U.S.
Jones and his Stand Up America Now organization applied several weeks ago for a special-events permit to allow Jones to speak Saturday in front of the largest mosque in North America, which is in Dearborn.
City officials, who recently had been ordered to pay $100,000 in one case in which Christians’ rights were violated and appeared to be heading to a similar result in another case, responded with a demand that Jones sign a “Hold Harmless” agreement.
“The agreement requires Pastor Jones to surrender all of his legal rights if he wants to speak on public property.”
Specifically, the agreement requires that Jones and his organization “RELEASE AND FOREVER DISCHARGE the city of Dearborn … and its officers, employees, and agents, from any and all claims, liabilities, or lawsuits, including legal costs and reasonable attorney fees, resulting from their activities on City of Dearborn property.”
It warns the participants that “these risks could result in damage to property, personal, and/or bodily injury or death, including injuries or death to the individual participants.”
Notably, the agreement does not have any requirement that the protected actions be reasonable or even legal. Consequently, the waiver could be used as a defense even if police and other authorities further abuse or violate the rights of the Christians.
The Thomas More Law Center lawsuit alleges the demand for the agreement “places an unconstitutional restriction on Pastor Jones’ First Amendment rights.”
Erin Mersino, the TMLC attorney handling the case, said, “Plaintiffs should not be forced to sign a one-sided, unconscionable contract subject only to the unbridled discretion of the city’s legal department in order to exercise their constitutional rights.
“The city’s free speech restriction imposes an unconstitutional burden on plaintiffs’ constitutional rights,” she wrote in the complaint.
TMLC represented Jones and his associate, Wayne Sapp, last November after they were jailed in Dearborn before they spoke even a word. In that case, a state judge ordered that they sign a “peace bond.” However, the law center overturned the order on appeal.
Jones’ Stand Up America Now was established to proclaim the Bible to Muslims and educate people about the threat of Islamic law to the fundamental principles of freedom in the U.S. As part of his outreach efforts, Jones travels around the country speaking about Christianity at Muslim events and mosques.
TMLC defended Christians in previous cases brought by Dearborn, but this case includes the American Freedom Law Center and attorney Robert Muise, who previously worked with TMLC.
In a recent decision, a federal judge denied Dearborn’s request to dismiss a civil rights action brought by four Christians who were arrested at the Dearborn Arab International Festival in 2010.
The American Freedom Law Center said the four were arrested by Dearborn officers while speaking about their faith to Muslims.
The Christians spent the night in jail and were accused of “breaching the peace.” However, Muise won acquittals from a jury for all the defendants in a criminal trial.
After the trial, Muise, along with attorney David Yerushalmi, filed a 96-page civil rights lawsuit against the city, Mayor John B. O’Reilly, Chief of Police Ronald Haddad, 17 police officers and two executives from the American Arab Chamber of Commerce. The plaintiffs are Acts 17 Apologetics, Nabeel Qureshi, David Wood, Paul Rezkalla and Josh Hogg.
Just days earlier, a Detroit judge had awarded some $100,000 in attorney’s fees in another case of a Christian who was arrested at the festival.
In that case, the city was told to pay the fees on behalf of Christian Pastor George Saieg, who had been arrested at the 2009 event. Magistrate Judge R. Steven Whalen said his recommendation was for fees and costs totaling $103,401.96 to be awarded in the case that was handled by attorney Muise.
Muise, at the time, was with the Thomas More Law Center, and the fees go to that organization.
During the course of the earlier actions, Dearborn was described as a “serial violator” of Christians’ rights.