.

Judge Acquits Men Arrested for Reading Bible Aloud Outside DMV

Brett Anthony Coronado, 44, and Mark Allen Mackey, 60, were both found not guilty of one misdemeanor count. They had been arrested by a CHP officer on Feb. 2, 2011, outside the Hemet DMV.

This screenshot of a YouTube video shows Mark Mackey being arrested Feb. 2, 2011 outside the DMV office in Hemet, Calif. (YouTube)
This screenshot of a YouTube video shows Mark Mackey being arrested Feb. 2, 2011 outside the DMV office in Hemet, Calif. (YouTube)

Two former members of a Hemet church arrested for reading Bible passages outside a DMV office were acquitted of demonstrating on government property without a permit, attorneys on both sides confirmed today.

Brett Anthony Coronado, 44, and Mark Allen Mackey, 60, were both found not guilty of one misdemeanor count of conducting a demonstration on state grounds without a permit. They were arrested Feb. 2, 2011, outside the DMV office at 1200 S. State St. in Hemet and later freed on their own recognizance.

Riverside County Superior Court Judge Timothy Freer acquitted Coronado and Mackey before the defense had presented its case, ruling that there wasn't enough evidence to prove that the men conducted a demonstration or gathering, according to defense co-counsel Robert Tyler.

The court trial -- a case tried without a jury -- started Aug. 5 at the Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta and ended Tuesday.

"I think this was the correct and the lawful decision. These two men were just exercising their First Amendment right to free speech, simply sharing their faith on public property, and criminal charges should never have been filed," Nic Cocis, the defendants' other attorney, told City News Service.

Tyler said their clients "were convinced they didn't do anything wrong, they didn't need a permit to do what they were doing, and the judge agreed."

Shortly after 8 on the morning of their arrests, Coronado, a former assistant pastor at Calvary Chapel in Hemet, 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?"

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, along with 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, a nonprofit law firm that handles religious liberty cases.

"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 complaint 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  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.

Meyer's CHP supervisor at the time, Lt. Michael Soubirous, defended the officer's actions.

"The whole thing is, when you go to the DMV, you are not allowed to do any other business," Soubirous told Patch in April 2011.

He said the men did not have a permit to speak there, which is required on state property for anything other than the intended business.

"We would have granted them a permit to go out and preach," Soubirous said. "There is a mechanism to be allowed to protest...We don't inhibit people's right to free speech--we regulate it."

He said he believed the group was aware of the permitting process, and that CHP officers had had prior contact with them.

He added that the same principles apply to a DMV office as do at the State Capitol building, which is also under the jurisdiction of CHP.

"I do know that what goes on at the State Capitol, where they have 15 protests a day, may seem foreign to groups here," Soubirous said at the time.

In September 2011, Los Angeles-based U.S. District Judge Dolly M. Gee suspended further hearings on the suit until the criminal case against Coronado and Mackey was resolved. Tyler, general counsel for Advocates for Faith and Freedom, said today his firm would tell the federal court they are ready to proceed.

He told City News Service he thought the criminal prosecution of Coronado and Mackey "was somewhat retaliatory because we filed a federal lawsuit."

"They were really just trumped-up charges to try to prosecute our clients and we believe we'll be able to proceed forward with this (lawsuit)," he alleged.

Riverside County District Attorney's Office spokesman John Hall said his office believes the judge "was incorrect in his analysis of the law as it relates to this issue. We are looking into whether or not we have any appellate remedy."

The lawsuit was filed in April 2011 and the criminal charge filed in August 2011. 

The criminal case was heard by a judge, according to Hall, because the defense had requested that and both sides waived their right to a jury trial.

Cocis said Coronado and Mackey are now with another church.

—City News Service and Maggie Avants contributed to this report.

AlwaysPO'd August 14, 2013 at 11:55 PM
Insanity folks, just plain insanity. I had a guy do the same thing to about 15-20 of us one morning before opening at the Temecula DMV and someone had enough and called TPD. I understand your rights but you understand mine/ours? Talk about a captive audience? It'd be different if the line was at a 7-11 but sometimes you need to go to the DMV. They know this and prey on folks who can't leave. Fanatics like these thumpers only do themselves more harm.
dee August 15, 2013 at 03:13 AM
well said
Michael Kennedy August 15, 2013 at 07:10 AM
Now, let's have a sizeable civil suit. Unfortunately, government and supposed "law" "enforcers" never heed the law unless it costs them money. Being scolded that they violated the Constitution will results in "high fives" in the locker room, unless there is a $multi-million award that goes with it. We have become a police state, as is obvious from this cavalier disregard of constitutional rights.
Cousin Clem August 15, 2013 at 09:46 AM
If the DMV was doing its job right there would not be a line up waiting to get in. They should be open long enough hours and enough personnel to avoid long lines! Usually I can do my DMV vehicle registrations at their branches in a AAA office, but the driver license work has to be done at the DMV office. What I observed was the employees were working hard, but at a sustainable pace. Many things were already being practiced to have good efficiency. Therefore DMV should stay open more days per week including every Saturday, and/or longer hours. OR else build more offices and more people.
Cousin Clem August 15, 2013 at 09:50 AM
If the DMV was doing its job right there would not be a line up waiting to get in. They should be open long enough hours and employ enough personnel to avoid long lines! Usually I can do my DMV vehicle registrations at their special branches in an AAA office, but the driver license work has to be done at the DMV office. What I observed was the employees were working as hard as reasonable to sustain that level for all day. Many things were already being practiced to have good efficiency. Therefore DMV offices should stay open more days per week including every Saturday, and/or longer hours. OR else build more offices and employ more people.
Cousin Clem August 15, 2013 at 09:55 AM
Thank God for the Murrieta-based Advocates for Faith and Freedom, a nonprofit law firm that handles religious liberty cases, and several other similar legal firms. Without these groups our religious rights would be trampled more and more. Click on the link in the article to read more about this small group here in Murrieta.
LBV Collins August 15, 2013 at 10:13 AM
I was at the Temecula DMV a few weeks ago renewing my driver's license and there was a long line waiting to get in. I would have been VERY unhappy if someone was preaching to me, forcing their religious views on me, knowing that I was standing in a line that I could not leave. I wonder how Coronado and Mackey would have reacted had THEY been standing in line while a Muslim read from the Qur'an or a Jew read from the Torah. Would they feel it was a violation of THEIR rights to be forced to listen?
AlwaysPO'd August 15, 2013 at 10:42 AM
So Clem, you honestly think this is the state's fault? Really? The thumpers are completely innocent here?
Warren August 15, 2013 at 12:43 PM
I thought this was state property. Separation of church and state? I agree with you LBV.
SA August 15, 2013 at 12:51 PM
Mr. Warren, this has nothing to do with “separation from church & state” actually not even remotely close to it … you may want to brush up on your constitution… That being said, I am 100% for religious freedom as long as you are not Muslim, annoying, and/or causing harm in any way to person, self and/or critter.
kristin c August 15, 2013 at 12:58 PM
At least these men were preaching the truth... thank your lucky stars they weren't reading out of the quran. And since when does the 1st amendment have to be regulated? If some guy was out there reading poetry or playing his guitar (which I've been a captive audience for and was annoyed) do you think he would have been arrested? I've also been a captive audience when people use foul language and never once was one of their potty mouths arrested... but whip out the bible and people start gnashing their teeth and writhing in pain as if their skin was about to burn off.
kristin c August 15, 2013 at 01:02 PM
And I cannot believe a person is arrested in America for reading a Bible. In God We Trust is printed on our money. Our founding fathers brought Christianity to America but we are not allowed to pull out a bible and read to others? Shame on your parents for not teaching you about God and shame on those who want to remove him from America. People react less if you were to pull out a gun.
LBV Collins August 15, 2013 at 01:10 PM
"...but whip out the bible and people start gnashing their teeth and writhing in pain as if their skin was about to burn off. " And why do you think that is, kristin c? Maybe average folk are trying to tell you, Coronado, and Mackey something? (I suggest all of you try reading in-between the lines.) And what's so bad about the Qur'an? Both the Bible and Qur'an are works inspired by the same God. (Ya' know, the God of Abraham?)
LBV Collins August 15, 2013 at 01:27 PM
"And I cannot believe a person is arrested in America for reading a Bible." They weren't arrested for reading the Bible, kristin c. They were arrested for "...demonstrating on government property without a permit." Had the been standing on the sidewalk, none of this would have happened.
rosa August 15, 2013 at 02:21 PM
Theres already enough noise at the dmv i dont want to hear anything else!!
all-c-ing-eye August 15, 2013 at 03:35 PM
Perhaps if the Rolling Stones performed at the DMV no one would mind waiting for their turn inside. I wonder if they would be removed vs a choir singing the Ava Maria which is religious although one of the most beautiful songs ever written. is it the performance, religious or not? or just the religion part of it?
Justice For All August 15, 2013 at 05:22 PM
The First Amendment certainly covers the freedom of speech and religion. But that pesky old Supreme Court keeps telling us that there is no room to mix religion and state… hence, there is no prayer in classrooms, no Christmas trees in front of City Hall, and I would surmise that a pulpit (figuratively speaking) in the parking lot of DMV would also be a no-no. ------------------------------------------------------------------------- America is a melting pot and we don't need to bash anyone for their religious beliefs. But, a law professor once told me, "YOUR rights and liberties end where MINE begin." These two gentlemen had every right to be at DMV just like anyone else. And if they want to protest DMV or government waste or whatever, they have that right, (albeit with the necessary permit). But when they began preaching religion they violated the basic rights of others to be free of religion at a government location. ------------------------------------------------------------------------- Why do some religious zealots insist on forcing their beliefs on "hostages?" It just seems like this would be contradictory to their mission. I'm in favor of protecting your civil right to practice your religion, but please remember that I have a civil right to not have it forced upon me.
LBV Collins August 15, 2013 at 06:05 PM
For me, all-c-ing-eye, the key word is "performance." If the Rolling Stones were performing, I'd pull out a folding chair, sit back and enjoy the show. Same is true if it were the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing Ave Maria. (And I agree; it is a beautiful song.) But Coronado and Mackey weren't performing. They were preaching. I no more want to listen to someone preaching to me about God than I do about smoking, or fast food, or exercising... or anything, pro or con. (ESPECIALLY when I'm stuck in line at the DMV!) If I want to engage people in a subject, I'll login to Patch or Facebook. Also, I would have no problem if Coronado and Mackey had been handing out leaflets inviting people to their prayer service or their church. But they didn't invite one person, to the best of my knowledge. They just decided to preach to a captive audience. That's obnoxious and rude.
missy b August 15, 2013 at 06:39 PM
Just so I understand what is going on here. It is not ok for someone to be on public property reading out loud passages from the Bible because it is being "forced" upon others? If that is the case, why are the people who are "forcing" their "f***" this and "f***" that upon ME being arrested? I am captive as I need to go to DMV just as much as others need to go.
AlwaysPO'd August 15, 2013 at 09:46 PM
There is a time and place for everything, this wasn't it for the thumpers. The thing that frys my chicken the most is that they know perfectly well you wont leave. Is this the teachings of today, entrapment? Once again, it's taken too far. How would it go over if I played the banjo standing next to a clergyman on the pulpit on Sunday morning.... and refused to leave? The only difference is that those attending have the option of leaving without fear of breaking a law. A time and place for everything my friends. They have shown a lack of respect for those solely wishing to attend to business and with that, shown their true ugly self.
Cousin Clem August 16, 2013 at 12:00 AM
Don't forget the Congress and the president made the halls of Congress available for regular Sunday worship services for decades.
Cousin Clem August 16, 2013 at 12:11 AM
Don't forget that President Thomas Jefferson attended the regular Christian Worship and praise services regularly during his eight years as president. Don't forget his often misquoted letter about "separation of church and state" was about assuring a smaller denomination of Baptist Christians the federal government was NOT going to impose a federally sponsored denomination on the country. It was NOT about telling them to butt out of government business.
Cousin Clem August 16, 2013 at 12:29 AM
@LTV asks how would these men feel if someone were reading from the Torah! Well the Torah is a part of the of the Christian Bible called "The OLD Testament. The Christian men might then Point out the places in the Torah that foretell the coming of the messiah. Then try to explain to the Jewish man how Jesus is the messiah promised in the Torah.
LBV Collins August 16, 2013 at 01:05 AM
"The Christian men might then Point out the places in the Torah that foretell the coming of the messiah. Then try to explain to the Jewish man how Jesus is the messiah promised in the Torah." ...In other words, the Christian men wouldn't like it so they would argue with the Jewish man reading from the Torah. Glad to see you and I agree, Clem.
Cousin Clem August 16, 2013 at 04:46 AM
@LBV No! I see it as saying two things. No the Christian men would recognize the other man has the same constitutional right to read his Torah as they do to read from the New Testament about Jesus. They may want to tell him about how Jesus fulfilled certain Torah prophecy already and will come back to fulfill the rest. (I know some Christians will say he already fulfilled them all).
J Kleiner August 16, 2013 at 12:02 PM
Conservatives claim that Illegal Immigrants are breaking our laws by existing here, no matter what their situation is......BUT....when it comes to their ideology or Christian beliefs, they expect everyone should ignore the laws......hypocrisy? YES. Typical of their conservative extremism.
Cousin Clem August 17, 2013 at 04:20 AM
Liberals, conservative, libertarians, environmentalists, industrialists, some drug store chains, spies, police, prosecutors, judges, various federal agents, drug task forces members and leaders, congress persons, city officials, The Army, The Navy, the Air Force, tax assessors, income tax officials, income tax agency personal at the top denying appropriate legal status conservative groups, NSA spying on citizens and lying about it. Opponents of medical marijuana are trying to ban dispensaries with blatant lies, or truths out of context so they have the effect of lies. Wow! I could go on and on like this, AND I KNOW OF EXAMPLES OF EVERYTHING I HAVE MENTIONED HERE. I am not saying that everyone in these agencies is corrupt, but there does seem to be too much lying going on.
Justice For All August 17, 2013 at 06:26 PM
@Clem... Nothing sensational here. This is simply the moral decay of our society. I doubt that we'll ever be able to reverse it even with all the latest trends of improving "transparency." The truth is usually much uglier than the lie. And, in the immortal words of Col. Nathan R. Jessup, "you can't handle the truth!"

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