Yes. 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 out loud. 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. Advocates for Faith & Freedom 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.
Riverside County Superior Court Judge Timothy Freer acquitted Coronado and Mackey before the defense had presented its case, ruling that there wasn’t enough evidence to prove that the men conducted a demonstration or gathering, according to defense co-counsel Robert Tyler.
The court trial, a case tried without a jury, started August 5, 2011 at the Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta.
“I think this was the correct and the lawful decision. These two men were just exercising their First Amendment right to free speech, simply sharing their faith on public property, and criminal charges should never have been filed,” Nic Cocis, the defendants’ other attorney, told City News Service.
Tyler said their clients “were convinced they didn’t do anything wrong, they didn’t need a permit to do what they were doing, and the judge agreed.”
The police officers who arrested these men appeared to have personal prejudices against these men because they were reading the Bible in public. They inappropriately twisted the law to try to fit their own agenda, and abused their power against these innocent godly men causing them humiliation and undue stress. At least the judge on the case had the good sense to rule in favor of the men dismissing the trumped up charges. This is a perfect example of Jesus’ warnings to the faithful:
“If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:18-19).