A video playing on You Tube has raised the anger of some Christians because of apparent violation of First amendment directed by Muslims and carried out by the police in Dearborn, Michigan. In reality, when the facts are examined, it is the full exercise of the First Amendment right of assembly and as an extension, association.
In a video playing on You Tube entitled, “Sharia in the US” (1), two people, Nabell Qureshi and David Wood visited an Arab Festival in Dearborn, Michigan. There, they found a booth with a banner that said, “Islam: Got Questions? Get Answers.” Qureshi and Wood approached the booth and picked up a pamphlet that stated that Islam promotes peace. When they read the pamphlet they found that they disagreed with the piece and Qureshi and Wood stated that they, “noticed… it was full of poor logic and errors.” They then returned to the booth with cameras running to ask them to defend the opinions in the pamphlet. At this, security from the festival approached them. As the video shows, they eventually are escorted off the grounds by Dearborn Police.
That would seem to be the end of the story. But, Qureshi and Wood assert unfounded assumptions about the reasons for being asked (escorted, forced) to leave the grounds. A statement associated with the video in part reads:
“We [Qureshi and Wood] ask you, is it a coincidence that the city with the highest percentage of Muslims in the United States is the city where Christianity is not allowed to be represented (let alone preached) on a public sidewalk? Is it coincidence that in this city, people will say "No way!" when we say "This is the United States of America"? Is this what will happen when Islam takes over the United States?”
Qureshi and Wood’s assertion is that they were asked to leave because Muslims are forcing Sharia Law in the United States and they are supported by the Dearborn police department. The two say they are believers in the First Amendment right to free speech and the free practice of their religion. According to them, they should have been allowed to stay so they could preach about their religion.
The response by the Dearborn Police to ask Qureshi and Wood to leave was the correct response because of First Amendment rights for the Arab Festival organizers.
Let’s first take a look at the exacting reading of the First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
In this case, the most important part of the First Amendment is, “the right of the people peaceable to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” For whatever else can be assumed about the situation that is describe above, it is about freedom of assembly and as an extension of that, freedom of association.
The Constitution guarantees the right to peaceable assemble, that is clearly stated. Over the two centuries since those words were written, the courts have determined that you can’t fully enjoy the freedom of assembly if you can’t assemble with the people that are like minded. After all, the following statement after freedom of assembly in the First Amendment is, “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Groups can’t petition for a redress of their grievances if there are competing factions within the group. It would be confusing at best if at one time speakers were taking one position and then the next speaker was taking the opposite position.
This has been supported in the last few years by important Supreme Court decisions. The first is Hurley v. Irish American GLIB Association (1995 – No. 94-749). The St Patrick Parade organization in Boston was asked by the Irish American GLIB Association, a group that supports rights for gays, lesbians bi-sexuals, to include them in annual Boston St Patrick’s Day Parade. The St Patrick Day Parade organization refused on the grounds that to include them would not properly represent the organization. The Irish American GLIB Association sued. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled that to force the parade organization to include them would, “be a form of coerced speech and violated the organizers’ First Amendment rights” of freedom of assembly. The reasoning was that if we have the right to assemble, it must be with like minded people. Since the parade organization had the required assembly permits, they were in control of who paraded with them.
The second ruling was in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale (2000 – No. 99—699). A gay man wanted to be admitted to the Boy Scouts of America. The organization, as in the above case, refused on the grounds that it would be forced association and would not represent the organization in the way the membership intended. To do so, the court ruled, would, violate the private organization’s rights to freedom of association and expressive association.”
In both cases, the justices favored allowing members of an organization to chose the membership of their organization and participants of their events. To restate the clear intention of the First Amendment, it was to allow people to gather with like minded people to support their point of view. To allow those that would not fully support their point of view would be forced association, something the authors of the Constitution knew about and wanted to avoid.
In the video Qureshi and Wood assert that they were asked to leave because Muslims are forcing Sharia Law in the United states and they are supported by the Dearborn police department. The truth is, because of the Supreme Court rulings and a conservative interpretation of the First Amendment, is simply not the case. The Arab organization clearly had petition the City of Dearborn to assemble on public grounds. It is clear they filed the same paperwork as any other organization or individual would have had to that allow them to assemble with like minded people. This is the same thing that the St Patrick Day Parade organization does every year to march down the streets of Boston since 1762. It is also the same thing the Boy Scouts of America do every time they use public school class rooms for meetings.
The Arab group in Dearborn did not want others that were not like minded at the assembly, so they asked Qureshi and Wood to leave. When they didn’t they were escorted out of the area. The St Patrick Parade organization and the Boy Scouts of America had already asked the Supreme Court to not be forced to associate with people they didn’t agree with. The Supreme Court also fully supported their request.
What appears on the surface to be an infringement of the Qureshi and Wood’s First Amendment rights and that of all Christians, wasn’t. The Supreme Court in this case not only correctly supported the St Patrick’s Parade Organization and the Boy Scouts of America (which, by the way, state on the website of each organization is a Christian organization) and by precedent the Arab organizations right to assembly, but also would allow Qureshi and Wood to hold their own assembly and exclude who they wanted.