The city of Dearborn has agreed to publicly apologize to a group of Christian missionaries arrested in 2010 while protesting at the annual Arab International Festival, according to a lawsuit settlement announced on Monday.
The lawsuit was filed by the American Freedom Law Center in Ann Arbor on behalf of Dr. Nabeel Qureshi, David Wood and Paul Rezkalla, members of the Christian missionary group Acts 17 Apologetics, who said their rights were violated when they were arrested by police on June 18, 2010, and charged with “breach of the peace” for their protest.
Under the terms of the settlement, the city must post an apology on its website for three years. It also must remove a news release and letter from Dearborn Mayor John O’Reilly that had criticized the group for “their attack on the city of Dearborn for having tolerance for all religions including believers in the Koran," according to the Detroit Free Press.
"At the end of the day, this decision made sense for all parties," O'Reilly said. "We're happy to comply with their request for a posted apology. It reflects the fact that we believe in free speech and we want to make sure we continue to support those rights."
According to the posted apology, the city states that it "regrets and apologizes for the decisions to arrest and prosecute" the missionaries.
"The decision to arrest these individuals was based in part on information provided to the Dearborn police by Arab Festival attendees, workers, and volunteers," the city states.
In September 2010, a jury unanimously acquitted the men of any wrongdoing.
"Through this apology ... the city seeks to build a bridge and to confirm to the community that members of all faiths are welcome in Dearborn to peacefully share their views and to engage in religious discussions," the city wrote.
O'Reilly said under the lawsuit settlement, the city also agreed to pay the three missionaries an undisclosed amount of money to compensate them for any hardship that occurred during their arrest.
Festival looking to make changes in 2013
The settlement is the latest development in ongoing tensions between some Christian groups and Arab Americans in the city.
O'Reilly said the festival has enjoyed a long peaceful history along Warren Avenue, but beginning in 2009 more aggressive Christian groups began attending the event carrying anti-Muslim signs and shouting racial comments to festival attendees.
Last year a group known as the Bible Believers brought a pig's head mounted to a pole to the festival, eliciting angry reactions from devout Muslims, who consider the animal unclean.
Terry Jones, pastor of Dove World Outreach Center, a small Christian church in Gainesville, Fla. announced on Friday that he intends to return to the festival this year to preach against Islam. The pastor staged protests at the festival in 2011 and outside Edsel Ford High School in 2012.
Festival organizers said earlier this month that the festival, scheduled for June 15-17, will move from Warren Avenue, where it has been held for the past 18 years, to Ford Woods Park, near the corner of Ford and Greenfield roads. One of the main arguments for the venue change is to provide a more controlled environment.
The American Arab Chamber of Commerce said the event will be open to the public, however there will be an admission fee to enter the festival, which includes games, amusement park rides and arts and crafts booths throughout the three-day event.
O'Reilly said a contract has not yet been finalized with the chamber.
"We're still working out the details," he said.
One of those details is the cost for police services. For the past two years, police services were provided by the Wayne County Sheriff's Office.
O'Reilly said the chamber will be expected to pay for six full-time Dearborn police officers, DPW crews for park clean-up, as well as park rental fees.
He said there has been no indication that festival organizers plan to cancel the event.
"We have a track record showing that this festival has certainly been capable of being very successful with no incidents. If we, together with the chamber, can make this new site work and make it successful, I'm fine with that. If not, it will be their decision on whether (the festival) continues," O'Reilly said.
Calls to the American Arab Chamber of Commerce were not returned as of Monday.