Hearing Postponed for Evangelists Accused of Preaching Without Permit

The attorney for two men being defended by a Murrieta-based law firm after they were arrested for reading the Bible aloud in front of the Hemet DMV is challenging misdemeanor allegations.

With their attorney filing a motion challenging the allegations against them, arraignment was postponed today for two former members of a Hemet church arrested for reading Biblical passages outside a government office, in a case that resulted in a federal lawsuit against the patrolman who arrested the pair.

Brett Anthony Coronado, 42, and Mark Allen Mackey, 59, are charged with conducting a demonstration on state grounds without a permit. They were , at 1200 S. State St., and are free on their own recognizance.

The men's attorney, Nicolaie Cocis, filed a motion in the case seeking dismissal of the misdemeanor charge based on the wording of the criminal complaint. In response, Riverside County Superior Court Judge John Davis postponed the defendants' arraignment to March 2, when he will also hear arguments on their objection to the complaint.

According to court documents, shortly after 8 on the morning of their arrests, Coronado, a former assistant pastor at Calvary Chapel, and Mackey, who worked in the church's evangelical ministries, stood about 50 feet away from the DMV office, in the parking lot, and read passages from the New Testament.

In a YouTube video, Coronado said the purpose was to spread the gospel to the people lined up outside, waiting for the DMV to open.

As Mackey was reading, a DMV security guard approached and ordered him "to go some place else." Mackey refused and continued reading, with Coronado at his side, the video shows.

Twenty minutes later, California Highway Patrol Officer Darren Meyer arrived at the location, and after briefly conferring with the security guard, confronted Mackey, snatched his Bible, handed it to Coronado and arrested Mackey on suspicion of trespassing, according to the video and court documents.

"What have I done wrong?" Mackey asks in the video.

"You've been asked to leave, and you didn't," Meyer replies. "You can preach on your own property. You can preach on a street corner. But you're not allowed to preach here because this is a captive audience."

When Coronado asks Meyer to cite the specific statute that Mackey has violated, the CHP officer replies, "You want to go, too?"

"I'm giving you the option: You want to leave or you want to be arrested?" the lawman asks.

A few minutes later, another CHP officer arrived and arrested Coronado on suspicion of impeding a business. Another member of the ministry, Edmond Flores, also was taken into custody, but was not charged.

Coronado, Mackey and Flores filed a civil liberties lawsuit less than two months later, alleging Meyer, and by extension the CHP, had violated their First, Fourth and 14th amendment rights, as well as violated the "liberty" clause of the California Constitution.

"Defendant, the CHP and the DMV all have engaged in the selective enforcement of a vague, overbroad and discretionary process of determining what expression will be allowed, and their enforcement has been inconsistent and viewpoint discriminatory," according to the suit, which is being handled on behalf of the plaintiffs by Murrieta-based Advocates for Faith and Freedom.

"In this instance, defendant prohibited plaintiffs' expressive activity because they were reading from the Bible and expressing religious viewpoints," the suit alleges. "Defendant's actions ... were harmful to plaintiffs because it violated their right to free speech ... under the United States Constitution."

The suit alleges the men were victims of false imprisonment and asks the court to declare religious speech outside the DMV office lawful, and to prohibit Meyer and any other state law enforcement official from arresting people for trespassing without justification.

Meyer, now the public information officer for the CHP's San Gorgonio office in Beaumont, sought an immediate dismissal of the lawsuit based on federal judicial findings that law enforcement officers acting within their official capacity cannot be sued for carrying out their duty.

In September, Los Angeles-based U.S. District Judge Dolly M. Gee suspended further hearings on the suit until the criminal case against Coronado and Mackey is resolved.

Coronado and Mackey have since parted ways with Calvary Chapel Hemet, according to Gary Johnson, senior pastor at Calvary Chapel Hemet. Coronado is the lead pastor at Reconciliation Church in San Jacinto.

LBV Collins January 11, 2012 at 03:55 AM
Coronado and Mackey’s approach to spreading the word of Jesus was counterproductive. Though they may have thought their intentions pure, reading from the Bible aloud to people standing in line at the DMV (who can’t leave) is obnoxious and disrespectful of others. A more respectful approach would have been to hand out leaflets inviting people to their church. I can’t help but wonder how Coronado or Mackey would feel if they were stuck in line at the DMV and a Muslim group read aloud the Qur'an. I can only hope that if the CHP arrived to disburse the Muslims, Coronado or Mackey would have stood up for the Muslims’ rights to free speech.


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