Victory for Pastor Jones; Court Rules that Pastor’s Constitutional Rights Were Violated by “Peace Bond” Trial

ANN ARBOR, MI – November 11, 2011. Yesterday afternoon, Wayne County Circuit Judge Robert Ziolowski ruled that the Wayne County Prosecutor and Dearborn District Judge Mark W. Somers violated the constitutional rights of Pastor Terry Jones and his associate, Wayne Sapp, as a result of the “peace bond” proceedings brought against them this past Spring.  The proceedings culminated with Judge Somers throwing Pastor Jones and Sapp behind bars because of their intended speech.

The Circuit Court ruling came in an appeal of the proceedings filed on behalf of Pastor Jones and Sapp by the Thomas More Law Center.  The Law Center is a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. 

In April 2011, Pastor Jones announced his plans to protest Jihad, Sharia Law and the radicalization of Muslims in America on public property in front of the Islamic Center of America, located in Dearborn, Michigan.  It is the largest mosque in North America.

The City of Dearborn, with a history of anti-Christian policies, denied Pastor Jones a permit to exercise his free speech rights because of opposition and threats of violence from Dearborn’s large Muslim community.  When Pastor Jones indicated that he intended to hold the free speech event anyway, the Wayne County Prosecutor, in cooperation with the City of Dearborn, filed a complaint in the Dearborn District Court.  Under threat of arrest, police authorities forced Pastor Jones and Sapp into court where they had to stand trial to determine whether they intended to break the law.

Following the trial, the jury returned a verdict, finding that the free speech activity was likely to breach the peace.  Judge Somers then imposed a $1 peace bond and issued an order that prohibited Pastor Jones or Sapp from going within the vicinity of the mosque, including the surrounding public property, for three years.  When Pastor Jones and Sapp refused to pay the bond because it was a violation of their right to freedom of speech, Judge Somers committed them to the county jail.

Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, commented, “Pastor Jones had committed no crime and was not charged with a crime.  Yet, he was forced into court and ultimately jailed because he intended to speak out against Jihad and Sharia Law.  Regardless of how one feels about Pastor Jones, he has a constitutionally protected free speech right to express his message.  The heavy- handed actions of the City of Dearborn and the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office give us a glimpse of how imposition of Sharia Law, which forbids any criticism of Islam, will destroy that fundamental constitutional right.”

The district court’s judgment was appealed by the Thomas More Law Center, which argued that the peace bond proceedings violated the First Amendment and due process rights of Pastor Jones and Sapp.  The Law Center also argued that the three year speech restriction violated the First Amendment.

In yesterday’s ruling, in addition to finding a violation of due process, Judge Ziolowski overturned on First Amendment grounds the District Court’s three-year injunction limiting Pastor Jones’ free speech rights by keeping him away from the mosque.  

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