Contact: Lori Sanada, Advocates for Faith & Freedom, 951-304-7583 weekdays, 951-500-7854 weekends and evenings
HEMET, Calif., April 26, 2011 /Christian Newswire/ -- On February 2, 2011, one assistant pastor and two elders from Calvary Chapel of Hemet, California, went to the Hemet DMV before it opened and one of the men started to read the Bible aloud. Less than thirty minutes later, he was arrested for "impeding an open business" under Penal Code Section 602.1(b).
Shortly after the men arrived at the DMV and began to simply read the Bible out loud, a security guard approached Mark Mackey as he was reading the Bible and told him to stop. The men believed that they had a First Amendment right to free speech as they were standing in a planter within the parking lot and were located on public property. Further, they were not interfering with any business of the DMV and were not yelling or disturbing the peace.
About ten minutes later, a California Highway Patrolman approached Mr. Mackey as he read, took the Bible out of his hands, and arrested him. As the CHP officer was arresting him and putting him in his patrol car, the two men who were with him -- Assistant Pastor of Calvary Chapel Hemet, Brett Coronado, and Ed Flores -- asked the officer, "What law was he breaking?" Instead of identifying a legal violation, the officer asked, "Were you preaching too?" After continuing to ask the officer for the legal violation, Pastor Coronado and Ed Flores were also arrested by another CHP officer who had come to the DMV and were also cited for "impeding an open business." Neither Pastor Coronado nor Mr. Flores ever read the Bible out loud anywhere on DMV premises.
The charge of "impeding an open business" was enacted in large part to protect businesses against protestors who block the doors of an open business. At the time of the arrest of these men, the DMV was closed, and they were standing at least fifty feet away from the entrance.
"This is an abuse of power on the part of the CHP," said Jennifer Monk, Associate General Counsel for Advocates for Faith & Freedom. "The arresting officer could find no appropriate penal code to use when arresting these men. The purpose of the arrests appears to have been to censor them."
After their arrests, these men were released, and the District Attorney has not at this time pursued any criminal charges. Prior to the arrest and during the arrest, Pastor Coronado and others videotaped the actions of the CHP, and a link to the edited footage can be found below. Advocates for Faith & Freedom has filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of these three men for violation of their right to free speech and for unlawful arrest.
"Whether this was an intentional violation of our clients' constitutional liberty or whether this was an act of ignorance on the part of the CHP, this lawsuit is important in order to preserve the liberty to read the Bible aloud on public property without fear of criminal prosecution," said Robert Tyler, General Counsel for Advocates for Faith & Freedom.
A copy of the complaint can be found here.
For an edited version of the video footage from this arrest, please click here.