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Talk back: Hemet men arrested for reading Bible outside DMV. OK?

August 14, 2013

Two Hemet men arrested after reading the Bible aloud outside a California Department of Motor Vehicles building were acquitted by a judge.

Prosecutors claim the men, Brett Coronado, 44, and Mark Mackey, 60, illegally demonstrated without a permit on Feb. 2, 2011, when their church evangelism team gathered outside the DMV office in Hemet to recite Bible verses, the Times’ Matt Hamilton reported.

Mackey was arrested by a California Highway Patrol officer on suspicion of preaching to a captive audience. The arrest was captured on video and posted on YouTube by Advocates for Faith and Freedom.

“You can preach on your own property,” one of the officers says in the video. “You can preach on the street corner, but you’re not allowed to preach here because this is a captive audience. They’re standing in line; they want to do business.”

A second CHP officer arrived and told Coronado that protesting was not allowed unless the group had the proper permit, according to court documents.

“I answer to a higher power, the U.S. Constitution,” Coronado replied, according to the trial brief.

As Hamilton writes:

Defense attorneys from the nonprofit law firm Advocates for Faith and Freedom said their clients’ actions didn’t match the legal definition of protest or demonstration, and further argued that the law was unconstitutional.

“This is not a case about whether someone would agree or disagree with their method of envangelism,” said defense attorney Robert Tyler. “This is really about their right to free speech and protecting that free speech.”

After prosecutors rested their case in the five-day trial, Tyler motioned for a directed verdict late Tuesday, arguing that the prosecution did not prove its case. Freer promptly accepted the motion. The decision was made by a judge because both sides waived the right to a jury trial. 

Coronado and Mackey plan to move forward with a federal lawsuit that claims the California Highway Patrol unlawfully arrested them.

Do you think the men should have been arrested? What do you think of them preaching outside the Department of Motor Vehicles office? Let us know in the comments below, by tweeting @LANow or on our Local News Facebook page.

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