When Mark Mackey, a member of the local Calvary Chapel, showed up to the DMV office in Hemet, CA on February 2, he had a goal: read the Bible and introduce those waiting in line to the "gospel of Jesus Christ." And for about 15 minutes he was successful. That is until a California Highway Patrolman took the Bible from his hands, arrested him, and told him he was guilty of preaching to a "captive audience."
And it was all caught on video:
According to reports, Mackey wasn't the only one arrested. Pastor Brett Coronado and Edmond Flores, Jr., who were accompanying him, were also taken into custody.
A press release from the group Advocates for Faith and Freedom, which is representing the men in a lawsuit, says the men were arrested for "impeding an open business" under Penal Code Section 602.1(b). But, the group calls the justification under that statue a stretch.
"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," the release says. "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 and 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."
A closer look at the Penal Code Section 602.1(b) may, at first glance, cause even more outrage for those such as Monk who are upset by the case. According to section c-1 of the law, the "preachers" would seem to have been okay if they were from a union:
(c) This section shall not apply to any of the following persons:
(1) Any person engaged in lawful labor union activities that are
permitted to be carried out on the property by state or federal law.
But according to Lt. Michael Soubirous of the San Gorgonio Pass CHP Station, which oversees the Hemet area, the men were arrested because they didn't have a permit.
"The whole thing is, when you go to the DMV, you are not allowed to do any other business," Soubirous told the Banning-Beaumont Patch. He said a permit is required on state property for anything other than the intended business.
"We would have granted them a permit to go out and preach," Soubirous explained. "There is a mechanism to be allowed to protest...We don't inhibit people's right to free speech--we regulate it."
Despite the arrests, the district attorney has not pursued criminal charges. Still, Advocates for Faith and Freedom is going through with its lawsuit.
"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.
You can view the group's complaint here.