The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati heard arguments on Wednesday regarding a Californian Christian evangelical group’s 2012 protest in Wayne County.
Judges will decide whether the case, which centers on issues of free speech and religion, can proceed against Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon and two other deputies at the scene.
The federal court agreed to rehear the case in front of the entire bench after it ruled on the case last year. In August 2014, the U.S. District Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a previous ruling in favor of Wayne County.
In June 2012, members of the group Bible Believers attended the Arab International Festival in Dearborn, Michigan.
Attorneys for the Bible Believers said the group reached out to police a few months before the protest requesting police presence at the festival. In 2011, members attended the same event where some verbal arguments and small outbursts of violence occurred between group members and festival attendees.
During the 2012 event, the protest escalated into a small riot. Attorneys for the religious group said they turned to the police for protection against physical attacks. Instead, Wayne County police officials asked the group to leave the site.
"The Bible Believers have protested in a lot of other areas, and they have never been attacked like they were in the city of Dearborn," said American Freedom Law Center attorney Robert Muise, who filed the lawsuit on the group's behalf.
Attorneys for the Wayne County Sheriff’s office said they decided to tell the group to leave the festival after Bible Believer members allegedly incited a riot.
According to the Wayne County Sheriff’s office, protesters picketed the event with a pig’s head attached to a pole while shouting insults about Islam and its prophet, Mohammed.
"What was law enforcement to do, wait until a riot broke out before asking the group to disperse?" said the attorney for the sheriffs, Nabih Ayad. "It was a decision to protect the public from harm."
Sources: Detriot Free Press