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28 September 2010

Jury acquits Christian missionaries arrested at Arab festival

david.jpgDEARBORN, Mich. — A jury in the heavily Arab Detroit suburb of Dearborn on Sept. 24 acquitted four Christian missionaries of charges of disorderly conduct at an Arab cultural festival.(DAVID WOOD)

The Detroit Free Press reported that Nabeel Qureshi of Virginia, Negeen Mayel of California and Paul Rezkalla and David Wood, both of New York, are members of a Christian group called Acts 17 Apologetics, which maintains that Islam is a false religion and inherently violent.

The four were accused of videotaping themselves preaching to Muslims at the Dearborn Arab International Festival in June. Police Chief Ron Haddad told The Detroit News the evangelists were arrested to ensure they did not provoke violence from the crowd.

Defense attorneys argued the missionaries were trying to engage Muslims in a peaceful dialogue about their faith. Robert Muise, an attorney for the Ann Arbor-based Thomas More Law Center who defended the evangelists, said their First Amendment right to free speech was violated and they did not harass anyone.

The four were charged in July after police said they received a complaint from a Christian festival volunteer who said he was harassed by the group.

Jurors did find Mayel guilty of failure to obey a police officer’s order. Her one-day jail sentence was waived for time served, The Detroit News reported.

Dearborn Mayor Jack O’Reilly Jr. told the Detroit Free Press that he respects the jury’s decision but he believed the missionaries were pulling a publicity stunt on YouTube to raise money.

“It’s really about a hatred of Muslims,” O’Reilly said. “That is what the whole heart of this is. ... Their idea is that there is no place for Muslims in America. They fail to understand the Constitution.”

But Dearborn attorney Majed Moughni, who had helped represent the missionaries earlier, said “these charges should never have been brought” because of freedom of speech.


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