In February 2011, Mark Mackey, a member of a local Calvary Chapel in Hemet, California and Pastor Bret Coronado -- a faith leader at the church -- were arrested after they showed up at a DMV office to read and preach from the Bible.
After Mackey began preaching, it only took about 15 minutes before a California Highway Patrolman grabbed the Bible and arrested him. His crime? Preaching to a "captive audience." Now, more than a year later, the case has made its way to court.
The men and their church, of course, disagree with the arrest and believe that it showcases "religious bigotry." According to a press release distributed today by Advocates for Faith & Freedom, the non-profit law firm representing Mackey and Pastor Bret Coronado in the legal battle, the incident was unfounded:
[On Wednesday], a trial court in Riverside County, California, heard arguments why the prosecution's case should be dismissed in the case of People v. Brett Coronado. Advocates for Faith & Freedom are defending Pastor Bret Coronado and Mark Mackey on misdemeanor charges after they were arrested in front of a California DMV while Mr. Mackey was reading the Bible out loud. The incident took place on February 2, 2011, in front of a group waiting for the DMV to open for business. [...]
Initially, when Mr. Mackey was arrested, the CHP officer stated that it was illegal to "preach to a captive audience." After the defendants were placed in jail and upon learning that no such penal code prohibits preaching to a "captive audience," the officer issued a citation for "impeding an open business" with threats or intimidation under Penal Code Section 602.1(b). However, the district attorney again changed the charges claiming trespass after the government realized the business was not actually open and, presumably, saw the video showing no threats or intimidation.
According to the press release, the church had negative run-ins in the past, so they frequently videotaped their evangelistic outreaches. Thus, the arrest was captured on film. Here's video of the incident, below:
"This is an abuse of power on the part of the CHP," proclaimed Robert Tyler, 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."
According to FOX News, though, constitutional attorney Dan Conaway agreed with the cop who arrested the men.
"[Mackey's] creating an intimidating situation for people who simply want to get their drivers licenses renewed," Conaway explains. "He does not have the right to intimidate others and force them to listen and impede their ability to do normal business activities such as going to the DMV."
Advocates for Faith & Freedom filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Christian men claiming free-speech violations and unlawful arrest. At the moment, the case has been stayed until the state court prosecution is concluded, the press release explains.
In the end, the men may, indeed, be found guilty on misdemeanor charges. There's no telling what will happen in terms of lawsuits and subsequent battles.