Federal District Court Judge Denise Page Hood of the Eastern District Court of Michigan, late Friday entered a summary judgment in favor of Pastor Terry Jones and his organization, Stand up America Now, against the City of Dearborn. Judge Hood ruled that Dearborn’s ordinance requiring Pastor Jones’s organization to sign a sweeping indemnification agreement as a condition for permission to speak on public property in front of a Dearborn mosque violated Jones’s First Amendment rights of Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Expressive Association.
The Thomas More Law Center (TMLC) filed the federal lawsuit on behalf of Pastor Terry Jones, associate pastor Wayne Sapp, and their organization Stand Up America Now on April 2, 2012 after the City of Dearborn demanded that they sign a “Hold Harmless” Agreement as a requirement for a special events permit for the event scheduled for April 7, 2012.
Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, applauded Judge Hood’s decision: “Judge Hood’s ruling upholds a bedrock principle of the First Amendment, that government cannot inhibit the expression of an idea just because some find the idea offensive. This principle is in stark contrast to those nations ruled by Sharia law. The fact that some may find Pastor Jones a controversial public figure or object to his message is even greater reason for Dearborn officials to ensure his right to free speech was protected. So despite the fact that Dearborn has one of the largest concentrations of Muslims in America, the City should have protected Pastor Jones’s right to free speech, not contrive a way to impede it.”
The TMLC attorney Erin Mersino who handled the case, added, “Judge Hood in her ruling clearly recognized that our clients were subject to the unbridled discretion of the City’s legal department, and that in order to exercise their constitutional rights to free speech on public property, they had to surrender many of their other civil rights.”
Mersino continued, “This requirement was not only unconscionable; it was unconstitutional.”
Pastors Terry Jones and Wayne Sapp founded Stand Up America Now for the purpose of proclaiming the Holy Bible to Muslims and educating people about the threat of Sharia law to our Nation’s fundamental principles of freedom. As part of their outreach efforts, Jones and Sapp travel across the country speaking about Christianity at Muslim events and mosques. The proposed event scheduled for April 7, 2012 consisted of speeches and flyer distribution on a public grassy median directly across from the Dearborn Islamic Center, the largest mosque in North America.
After the lawsuit was filed, TMLC attorney Mersino, obtained a temporary restraining order from the Court which allowed Stand Up America Now to proceed with their special event without signing the “Hold Harmless” agreement. Realizing their untenable legal position, mere minutes before the court granted the order, the City withdrew its previous demand for a signed “Hold Harmless” agreement, and ignoring their own ordinance, decided to grant the permit. The TMLC nevertheless continued the case because the ordinance requiring a “Hold Harmless” agreement was still on the books. Consequently, the City could again violate the constitutional rights not only of Pastor Jones, but also of others who may want to exercise their free speech rights in the future.
In granting the Summary Judgment in favor of Plaintiffs, Judge Hood held that Plaintiffs cannot be required to waive their right to hold the City liable for its otherwise actionable conduct as a condition of exercising their right to free speech. Additionally, Judge Hood found that the Hold Harmless agreement would require the Plaintiffs to assume legal and financial responsibility even for those activities at the event that were outside of their control, including activities of the City itself.
Previously, the TMLC successfully represented Pastor Jones and his associate Wayne Sapp in November of 2011 after they were jailed by Dearborn police for attempting to protest Jihad, Sharia Law and the radicalization of Muslims in America. In that case, a State District Court judge ordered that they sign a ‘Peace Bond.’ However, the TMLC overturned that order on appeal.
Judge Hood’s entire 12-page ruling can be read here.