City issues apology to Arab Fest protesters

By BOB OLIVER
Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN — A settlement has been reached between the city of Dearborn and three Christian missionaries who were arrested while attending the Arab International Festival in 2010.

As part of that settlement the city must post an apology on its website for three years and pay an undisclosed amount of money to the men arrested.

The lawsuit was brought against the city by Nabeel Qureshi, David Wood and Paul Rezkalla who were arrested for disturbing the peace while attending the AIF. They were later acquitted of all charges.

Immediately after the charges were dropped the three filed a civil suit against Mayor Jack O’Reilly Jr., Police Chief Ronald Haddad, 17 police officers and two leaders of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce. They were represented by the American Freedom Law Center.

The settlement will have the city posting an apology on its website that must remain on there for three years. The apology will read:

“On June 18, 2010, David Wood, Nabeel Quershi (co-founders of Acts 17 Apologetics) and Paul Rezkalla were arrested by Dearborn police officers at the Dearborn Arab International Festival (“Arab Festival”), while they were engaging in a peaceful dialogue about their Christian faith with several festival attendees. Wood, Qureshi, and Rezkalla were subsequently charged with breach of peace, a misdemeanor offense.

“The decision to arrest these individuals was based in part on information provided to the Dearborn police by Arab Festival attendees, workers, and volunteers. When all of the information — including video captured by Wood, Qureshi, and Rezkalla — was presented to a Dearborn jury, the jury found that these individuals were not guilty of the criminal offense of breach of peace.

“The City of Dearborn regrets and apologizes for the decisions to arrest and prosecute David Wood, Nabeel Qureshi, and Paul Rezkalla and the hardship caused to everyone involved.

“Through this apology and its acceptance by David Wood, Nabeel Qureshi, and Paul Rezkalla, the parties seek to build a bridge and to confirm to the community that members of all faiths are welcome in Dearborn to peacefully share their views and engage in religious discussions.”

In addition to the apology the city must also remove a news release and letter from O’Reilly that was posted on the website in 2010 regarding the Acts 17 Apologetics. In it O’Reilly criticized the group for their “attack” on Dearborn for “having tolerance for all religions including believers in the Koran.”

A statement by AFLC Co-founder and Senior Counsel Robert Muise was posted on the law center’s website after the settlement. He said that despite their acquittal, his clients “continued to be treated as if they had committed a crime.”

He added that “with this settlement and apology” the “dispute with the City will finally be put to rest.”

AFLC Co-founder and Senior Counsel David Yerushalmi added that the AACC also had violated the clients’ rights and that “we intend to hold them accountable.”

The Act 17 Apologetics are just one of several Christian missionary groups that have attended the AIF in recent years. Another group called the Bible Believers attended the last two festivals and had bottles and debris hurled at them from festival attendees. A video of the incident was posted online and garnered many views.

The presence of these groups at the last few festivals has played a role in the city’s wish to move the event from the openness of Warren to a closed park at Ford Woods, O’Reilly said.

This year’s festival is set for June 14 to 17.

(Bob Oliver can be reached at boliver@bewickpublications.com.)

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