Sixth Circuit Grants Full Court Review of Christian Speech Case

As we previously reported to you, on August 27, a divided, three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issued its ruling in Bible Believers v. Wayne County, affirming 2 to 1 a lower court decision dismissing a civil rights lawsuit brought by the American Freedom Law Center (AFLC) on behalf of several Christian evangelists who were violently attacked by a hostile Muslim mob while preaching at an Arab festival in Dearborn, Michigan, which has the largest Muslim population in the United States.  Video of the Muslim assault went viral on YouTube.

Circuit Judge Clay wrote a scathing dissent, stating,

“The majority’s first error is its conclusion that the First Amendment did not protect [the Christians’] speech.  This is not only wrong, it is dangerously wrong.”

Alluding to the fact that Islamic law (sharia) punishes speech critical of Islam as blasphemous, Judge Clay stated,

“Moreover, the First Amendment strongly counsels that we should not allow the state to criminalize speech on the grounds that it is blasphemous—even so blasphemous that the average adherent to the offended religion would react with violence.”

AFLC filed a petition for rehearing en banc (full court review), and late yesterday the court granted the petition.  The case will now be heard by the entire court (15 active circuit court judges).  Oral argument is scheduled for March 4, 2015, in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The granting of such a petition is very rare.  Indeed, here is what the Sixth Circuit’s rules say about the matter:

“A petition for rehearing en banc is an extraordinary procedure intended to bring to the attention of the entire court a precedent-setting error of exceptional public importance . . . .”