6th Circuit recognizes First Amendment rights of “extreme and ill-mannered evangelical group”

The 6th Circuit en banc released an opinion today that allowed an an “extreme and ill-mannered evangelical group” to march on public streets through City streets in Dearbourn, Michigan “with banners, signs, and tee-shirts that displayed messages criticizing Islam and Mohammed.”  The demonstrations occurred during the annual Arab International Festival that attracts more than 300,000 persons over three days.

The group made themselves intentionally controversial, carrying around a severed pig’s head on a spike and and signs that said, “Islam is a Religion of Blood and Murder.” However, all their activities were on publicly-dedicated streets and sidewalks.

The County had argued that the speech of Bible Believers constituted “fighting words” and “incitement to violence” and thus could be banned.

The issue was whether Bible Believers had a right to engage in street preaching, and to parade around with their printed messages. The festival allowed groups to register for an assigned table, under the information tent, but not parade about the festival.  The Plaintiffs, Bible Believers, preferred to move around on the public streets and sidewalks where they could be seen.

The 6th Circuit decision says “fighting words” only means words directed at an individual who is present.  As to incitement, the decision says that Bible Believers did not ask anyone listening to do anything violent.

The case is Bible Believers v Wayne County, Michigan, 13-1635.