**UPDATE with more information** This month, we took one of our most talked-about cases to trial. Over two years ago, three men were arrested for reading from the Bible outside of the DMV in Hemet, CA. The officer told them that they weren’t allowed to “preach to a captive audience.” After placing the men in custody, the arresting officers learned that there is no such law, so the officers had to come up with something else–interfering with an open business through obstruction or intimidation. However, the DMV was actually closed at the time our clients were evangelizing and they were standing at least 40 feet away from the business so that citation did not stick.
After political pressure was launched upon the Riverside County D.A. by the CHP, new charges were drummed-up and two of the men–Brett Coronado and Mark Mackey–were prosecuted for failing to have a permit to conduct a “demonstration or gathering.” We defended Brett and Mark by arguing that merely reading the Bible out loud, in front of a group of people waiting in line, can hardly amount to an illegal demonstration or gathering. You can view the video footage of the arrest on our website at www.faith-freedom.com.
The trial occurred over five days in August, 2013. For some reason, this case was so important to the District Attorney that he appointed a felony prosecutor to this misdemeanor case. The prosecution called eight witnesses to trial; but upon cross examination, we were able to elicit testimony from most of the witnesses undermining the prosecution’s case!
On Tuesday, August 13, our defense team made a motion for directed verdict at the conclusion of the prosecution's case in chief and before we began presenting any defense witnesses. The trial judge granted our motion and found our clients “not guilty!” The judge also commented that he agreed that the law being applied was unconstitutional. By the grace of God, our clients were victorious in this trial!
Some Christians have commented that they disapprove of Brett and Mark's method of evangelism because their approach might be offensive to some people. Certainly, Christians have differing viewpoints on the subject of evangelism. But we want to explain why this case is relevant to all Christians who have a desire to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Why this case affects every Christian
God has blessed us to live in a nation where we have the freedom to share our faith from the pulpit, through our lives, or even on the streets. Perhaps you would not choose the same means of sharing your faith, but if our clients were arrested and charged for reading the Bible out loud on State property, who’s to say that you won’t be prohibited from conducting a small Bible study in the park or singing Christian songs around a fire pit at the public beach?
We knew that this case had to be fought. These men were simply reading from the Bible in public and the CHP and District Attorney were relentless in trying to prosecute our clients.
What would you do if you were arrested for sharing your faith in public? Would you hire an attorney to defend you and negotiate a plea bargain with the District Attorney for a minor infraction? Our clients could have accepted a deal for an infraction, which would have included nothing more than a small fine. Instead, however, our clients stood upon the First Amendment in the face of misdemeanor charges that could have led to a $500 fine and 90 days in jail.
Present-day faith like Paul
This situation has interesting similarities to the biblical events recorded in Acts 16. Paul and Silas had been preaching in Greece and bringing the Good News of salvation. The authorities violated their rights as Roman citizens by ordering them to be beaten and thrown into prison after a crowd rose up against them for preaching the gospel and throwing the city into confusion.
Around midnight, as Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns, an earthquake shook the prison doors open and released their chains. Although they were given the opportunity to run from their trouble, Paul and Silas stood firm in their faith. In fact, when the authorities learned that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, the authorities begged them to leave quietly. Paul would not have this; he knew that his liberties had been violated as a Roman citizen and he demanded that they be escorted out of prison by the authorities. Paul told the officers, “They have publicly beaten us without a trial and put us in prison–and we are Roman citizens. So now they want us to leave secretly? Certainly not!” (Acts 16:37)
Our clients were given the chance to plead guilty to an infraction and end the whole matter, with no jail time. But they, and we, believe that they did nothing wrong–they were exercising their First Amendment freedom of speech in order to spread the Gospel, and they knew that they could not let this injustice go away quietly.
We were honored to be aided in this fight by our co-counsel Nic Cocis, a devoted Christian lawyer who grew up in the Communist era in Romania. He understands how blessed we are here in America, and how vital it is that we always take a stand to preserve our liberties!
We can now move forward with our federal case for unlawful arrest. Our case will proceed against the CHP in the United States District Court for the purpose of deterring authorities from illegally arresting individuals for the peaceful expression of faith.
If you believe that everyone should have the right to spread the Word of God without the threat of arrest, please consider a financial gift to help us with this federal case. Any amount you contribute will help to fund the manpower, hours of legal and strategy preparation, filing fees, and travel costs to make sure we are properly equipped for what is to come.
From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you for your continued support and the blessing that you are to our ministry!
God bless you,
Late Tuesday, Superior Court Judge Timothy Freer found two men “not guilty” after they were charged and tried for reading the Bible aloud in front of a line of people waiting to enter the DMV in Hemet, California. One of them is Pastor Brett Coronado of Reconciled Christian Fellowship in Hemet, California and the other is an elder of the church.
You can view our previous press release that outlines the facts and charges.
The prosecution needed to prove that the men were required to obtain a permit before engaging in their expressive activity of reading the Bible. After the prosecution rested, the defense team made a motion for directed verdict and Judge Freer entered a verdict of “not guilty” before the defense was required to present its own witnesses and evidence.
Robert Tyler, one of the defense attorneys and General Counsel for Advocates for Faith & Freedom stated, “The prosecution failed to meet its burden of proof that our clients committed a crime when they read the Bible aloud in front of a line of people.”
Nic Cocis, defense attorney and co-counsel, remarked, “These men were exercising their First Amendment right of Free Speech. They were simply sharing their faith on public property and the criminal charges should never have been filed.”
In order for the prosecution to prove that a permit was required under Title 13, Section 1860 of the California Administrative Code, it was required to prove that the defendants were engaged in a “demonstration or gathering” as defined in Section 1851. Judge Freer ruled that there was insufficient evidence to prove that the men conducted either a “demonstration or gathering.” Both definitions require that the conduct of defendants was such that it had “the effect, intent or propensity to draw a crowd or onlookers” and the prosecution couldn’t prove that to be the case.
Robert Tyler stated, “We were very pleased because Judge Freer also agreed that the law was unconstitutional because it gives too much unfettered discretion to law enforcement in determining whether someone’s speech or other expressive activity has the effect, intent or propensity to draw a crowd or onlookers.” He further stated, “Although Judge Freer’s final verdict did not include a finding on constitutionality, his comments certainly vindicate our argument that the law is unconstitutional.”
We had previously filed a federal lawsuit for unlawful arrest before these criminal charges were filed against the men. That lawsuit was stayed pending the outcome of this criminal case. The federal case will now proceed against the California Highway Patrol before the Honorable Dolly Gee in the United States District Court, Central District of California, which is located in Los Angeles. A copy of the federal complaint can be found [here].
Attorney Nic Cocis emigrated from Romania at the age of 13 when the country was still being controlled by a communist regime. He remarked, “This case has particular importance to me because my family was persecuted for our Christian faith in communist Romania, and I will fight to protect the freedom of speech and to ensure that the same persecution doesn’t occur in the United States.”