A recent case out of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals held that Wayne County and certain County police officers violated the First Amendment and Equal Protection rights of members of a group called the "Bible Believers" when the County required them to leave the Arab International Festival. The Bible Believers argued that they were merely exercising their First Amendment free speech and religion rights in preaching to the Festival participants. The County and officers defended their actions by arguing that the Bible Believers' anti-Muslim message caused violent demonstrations by Festival attendees, and that removal of the members of the Bible Believers was necessary to protect public safety. The court found for the Bible Believers, holding that the County violated the Believers' First Amendment rights in Bible Believers v. Wayne County.
The court focused on whether removing the Believers from the Festival violated the Believers' First Amendment Right in creating a "heckler's veto" by cutting off protected speech in response to a hostile crowd's reaction. Based on the facts of the case, the court said yes, and ruled in favor of the Believers. While the court acknowledged that police have an interest in ensuring public safety and preventing breaches of peace, that interest has to be balanced against the group's free speech rights. In this case, by silencing one group (the Bible Believers) to appease another group (attendees at the Arab Festival) to avoid an altercation, the County violated the Believers' constitutional rights. The Court emphasized that the First Amendment’s free speech rights protect "all manner of speech, even when that speech is loathsome in its intolerance, designed to cause offense, and, as a result of such offense, arouses violent retaliation."
Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf