Gingrich backtracks on statement on Arab Fest arrests

By J. PATRICK PEPPER
Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN — Former U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich last week corrected a statement he issued regarding the arrests of four Christian missionaries at the city’s Arab International Festival in June.

In an online newsletter first posted July 28, to humanevents.com and then later at his Website, newt.org, Gingrich mentioned the controversial arrests as an example of how sharia law is creeping into Western society.

The article was based mostly on his opposition to a mosque to be contained as part of an Islamic community center near the site of the former World Trade Center and also pointed to other religious controversies involving Muslims from across the country.

The Dearborn mention was brief – only one paragraph out of about 1,400 words – but was based on bad information. Here’s what it said in its entirety:

“Last month, police in Dearborn, Mich., which has a large Muslim population, arrested Christian missionaries for handing out copies of the Gospel of St. John on charges of ‘disturbing the peace.’ They were doing so on a public street outside an Arab festival in a way that is completely permissible by law, but, of course, forbidden by sharia’s rules on proselytizing. This is a clear case of freedom of speech and the exercise of religious freedom being sacrificed in deference to sharia’s intolerance against the preaching of religions other than Islam.”

The account stems from a YouTube video posted by the missionaries that showed officers talking to them as they passed out pamphlets. No arrest took place, and the missionaries say in the video that they weren’t arrested.

Despite the statement by the missionaries in the video, many people who viewed it initially thought it was footage of their arrests, which happened two days earlier.

As the arrest controversy has unfolded, that notion has been proved false in several published reports, in a letter from Mayor John O’Reilly Jr. written in response to the thousands of complaints the city received about the incident, and by the missionaries themselves.

An official with Gingrich’s K Street communication firm in Washington, D.C., said in an e-mail Thursday that the discrepancy was a result of receiving “secondhand” information and said the mistake would be corrected in “future accounts.”

The official, Communications Director Joe DeSantis, added, “However, the point still stands that they seemed to be acting in a legal, peaceful manner.”

On Friday, newt.org changed the passage, however it remained on humanevents.com. Here it is in its entirety:

“Last month, police in Dearborn, Mich., which has a large Muslim population, arrested Christian missionaries for proselytizing at an Arab festival. They were doing so in a legal, peaceful manner that is completely permissible by law, but, of course, forbidden by sharia’s rules on proselytizing. Police may say they were trying to prevent an incident, but why should the (First Amendment) right to freedom of speech and the exercise of religious freedom be sacrificed in deference to sharia’s intolerance against the preaching of religions other than Islam?”

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