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Published: Friday, 5/27/2011

Dearborn must allow pastor to give out flyer

Court: Free speech rights were violated


DETROIT -- A Detroit suburb violated the free-speech rights of a Christian evangelist by barring him from handing out leaflets at an Arab-American street festival last year, a federal appeals court said Thursday.

The 2-1 decision comes less than a month before the next festival in Dearborn, which draws thousands of people to Warren Avenue in the heavily Arab community.

The festival had offered George Saieg of Anaheim, Calif., a free booth in 2010, but said he and his followers could not freely walk sidewalks with literature about converting Muslims to Christianity.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the restriction was unreasonable, especially when vendors and pedestrians were allowed on sidewalks during the festival.

Dearborn and its police department "violated Saieg's First Amendment right to freedom of speech," judges Karen Nelson Moore and Eric Clay said.

"Absent an injunction, Saieg will continue to suffer irreparable injury for which there is no adequate remedy at law."

Mr. Saieg had no problems for years at the Arab festival until 2009, when Ron Haddad became Dearborn police chief.

Chief Haddad has defended the policy as a way to control foot traffic.

Mayor Jack O'Reilly said he's "fine" with the court decision but is concerned about the cost of cleaning up leaflets dropped on the ground.

It's the second time the appeals court has intervened. In 2010, a federal judge in Detroit upheld the city's restrictions.

But the court stepped in on the eve of the festival and said Mr. Saieg could at least distribute information on the perimeter.

After another look, judges Moore and Clay said Thursday allowing him on the perimeter still doesn't meet the pastor's free-speech rights.

The dissenting judge, Martha Craig Daughtrey, said the restrictions were "narrowly tailored" and not unreasonable.

Mr. Saieg plans to attend the June 17-19 festival.

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