Judgment Entered Against Wayne County Sheriffs for Violating Christians' Free Speech Rights
The case, Bible Believers v. Wayne County, was brought by the American Freedom Law Center (AFLC) on behalf of the Christians. As a result of this judgment, Wayne County agreed to pay $197,500 in attorneys' fees and costs.
This judgment brings to a conclusion the lengthy and hard fought litigation in this matter—litigation which included a full court (en banc) review by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.
On October 28, 2015, a majority of the full court of the Sixth Circuit ruled in favor of the Christians. The en banc court completely reversed a lower court decision which ruled in favor of Wayne County and officials from the County Sheriff's Office who silenced the Christians' speech in response to the hostile mob's reaction.
Previously, however, on August 27, 2014, a divided, three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit dismissed the civil rights lawsuit, finding that the violent response of the Muslim hecklers justified the Wayne County sheriffs' order to the Christians that they would be arrested for disorderly conduct if they did not leave the festival area.
Within days of receiving the adverse ruling, AFLC filed a petition for rehearing en banc, requesting full court review. On October 23, 2014, the court granted the petition and vacated the panel decision. Oral argument before the full court was held on March 4, 2015, in Cincinnati, Ohio.
On October 28, 2015, the Sixth Circuit (en banc) ruled in favor of the Christians, completely reversing the lower court opinion.
In its decision, which was made final today by the entry of judgment in the district court, the Sixth Circuit ruled, among other things, that two Deputy Chief defendants from the Wayne County Sheriff's Office were liable for violating the Christians' First Amendment rights to free speech and the free exercise of religion and for depriving the Christians of the equal protection of the law. The court ruled that these individual defendants did not enjoy qualified immunity.
AFLC Co-Founder and Senior Counsel Robert J. Muise commented, "This decision was a major victory for the Constitution and for all freedom-loving Americans. It affirms that the First Amendment protects speech critical of Islam and that when the government seeks to suppress such speech by enforcing a heckler's veto that favors the violent Muslim mob over the free speech rights of Christians, the government will pay dearly for this egregious violation of the Constitution."
In its opinion, the Sixth Circuit stated, in relevant part: "In a balance between two important interests—free speech on one hand, and the state's power to maintain the peace on the other—the scale is heavily weighted in favor of the First Amendment. . . . Maintenance of the peace should not be achieved at the expense of the free speech. The freedom to espouse sincerely held religious, political, or philosophical beliefs, especially in the face of hostile opposition, is too important to our democratic institution for it to be abridged simply due to the hostility of reactionary listeners who may be offended by a speaker's message. If the mere possibility of violence were allowed to dictate whether our views, when spoken aloud, are safeguarded by the Constitution, surely the myriad views that animate our discourse would be reduced to the standardization of ideas by the dominant political or community groups. Democracy cannot survive such a deplorable result."
AFLC Co-Founder and Senior Counsel David Yerushalmi added, "This case is an example where the good form of 'lawfare' succeeded in fighting on behalf of and for liberty. It's a case where the Constitution was upheld even when the full force of political correctness was operating against it. Kudos to Judge Clay, the author of the court's opinion, and the majority of judges who joined him in this important decision."
The American Freedom Law Center is a Judeo-Christian law firm that fights for faith and freedom. It accomplishes its mission through litigation, public policy initiatives, and related activities. It does not charge for its services. The Law Center is supported by contributions from individuals, corporations, and foundations, and is recognized by the IRS as a section 501(c)(3) organization. Visit us at http://www.americanfreedomlawcenter.org.
Robert J. Muise, Esq.