Pastor Bret Coronado of Reconciled Christian Fellowship in Hemet, California, and an elder in the church, Mark Mackey, were arrested in February 2011, after they were observed reading a Bible aloud near a line of people waiting to enter a state driver’s license office in Hemet, California. Pastor Coronado and Mr. Mackey were arrested by an effeminate officer of the California Highway Patrol (“CHP”) for violating California Administrative Code, Title 13, Section 1860. This provision requires that the prosecution show that the defendants were engaged in a “demonstration or gathering.” The CHP said the group was preaching to a captive audience. Further, even though on public property, the officer said that they were trespassing because they needed a proper permit to “protest or demonstrate.” As a result of their arrest, the men faced up to 90 days in jail and a $400 fine. Mr. Mackey’s Holy Bible was also confiscated by the officer. A less than four-minute video of the actions leading to their arrest can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kEldkScmm78 . You will observe that Pastor Coronado and Mr. Mackey are about 50 feet from the DMV line, and that the gentlemen are peacefully in the DMV parking lot and sidewalks, with Mr. Mackey reading aloud from the Holy Bible. You may recall that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution has some pesky limitations on governmental power. These preclude suppression of freedom of speech and, pertinent to this case against the Pastor and Elder Mackey, limits on governmental actions that impede the free exercise of religion, and interfering with the right of peaceable assembly.
Two and one half years after their arrest, Pastor Coronado and Mr. Mackey’s trial has now ended, and California Superior Court Judge, The Honorable Timothy Freer, ruled that the prosecution’s case against Pastor Coronado and Mark Mackey failed to prove that the law had been broken. Accordingly, Judge Freer entered the directed “not guilty” verdict on a motion from the defense after the prosecution rested their case. However, since we know that California has plenty of money in its governmental coffers, and because such actions are a grave threat to the people of California, prosecutors are investigating options to appeal the judge’s decision. (Yes, really!)
Pastor Coronado and Mr. Mackey will now proceed with their civil suit in federal court filed against the CHP for unlawful arrest, which had been on hold pending the outcome of the criminal trial. As we recall, St. Paul and his colleagues were not averse to using the Roman legal system and their rights as citizens of Rome to press for their rights to present the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. I do hope, however, that the CHP has to cough up lots of big bucks! Wouldn’t a World Center of Evangelization look great in Hemet, especially when paid for with CHP money? Substantial punitive damages might also help to teach a very useful lesson to an ignorant Highway Patrolman who restricted speech merely because of its religious viewpoint. Oh wait, is criticizing an effeminate officer of the CHP hate speech? Pastor Coronado and Mr. Mackey were represented by a non-profit religious liberty law firm Advocates for Faith and Freedom. Watching that video makes me want to be bolder to share my Christian faith in salvation through Jesus Christ. Lord, may it be so!