Religious freedom: does it still exist for the USA?

By June 22, 2010

USA (MNN) — Four Christians were arrested last Friday after having open discussions about their faith with Muslims at the Arab International Festival in Dearborn, Michigan.

The group of believers were from the group Acts 17 Apologetics and had apparently gone to the festival to begin conversations about Christ. Other mission groups, including volunteers from E3 Partners, Voice of the Martyrs, and Josh McDowell Ministries, were also at the 300,000-person convention, and several groups, including Acts 17, had been in the past.

Todd Nettleton with Voice of the Martyrs says the believers in question were video taping as they engaged in faith discussions with people at the convention. None of the Muslims involved in the conversations appear to have called for police; instead, a nearby convention volunteer pointed police in that direction.

"No one was screamed at. No one was accused. There was not a disrespectful tone toward Islam. There were not verbal attacks against Islam, there were not verbal attacks against Mohammad," says Nettleton. "It was simply a theological discussion, which, in the United States, we should be free to do."

Police arrested Nabeel Qureshi and David Wood, the leaders of Acts 17, along with Paul Rezkalla and a woman named Nageen under the charge of "disorderly conduct." Police also took the group's videotape recording–the would-be evidence of merely a peaceful conversation taking place. The believers have been released on bail, but police so far have refused to return the video recording.

Nettleton says the purpose of going to the convention was to show love to the many Muslims participating and to have friendly conversation about their beliefs.

"It's hard to see how that desire to show love, that desire to discuss faith, can be construed as 'disorderly conduct,'" says Nettleton. The discussions were clearly fruitful as one Muslim had prayed to accept Christ just minutes before the alleged arrests. There has been no evidence that this conversion had anything to do with the arrest, but the situation should raise concern regardless.

"It should be a concern to Christians that being on a public street, talking about Jesus, can be construed as 'disorderly conduct,'" notes Nettleton.

Perhaps the most striking factor of the arrests, though, is not what happened, but where it happened–the the United States. The U.S. has held religious freedom as a constitutional ideal since it was written in 1776. Now, however, the very definition of religious freedom seems to be threatened.

"If this were Pakistan, or China, and someone on the street spoke about his faith, we would say, ‘Oh yeah, that happens,'" says Nettleton, who has dealt with many international cases of persecution throughout his work with VOM. "But this was in the United States; this was a country where we say we have religious freedom."

How should American believers react? Nettleton says Christians should not respond with anger or disbelief, but with revitalized passion to go into the world and make disciples.

"I think this is a challenge to the American church to be more bold in sharing our faith," notes Nettleton, explaining that we should continue to share the truth in love. "This is obviously something we need to pray about."

Keep checking with Mission Network News for updates on the case. In the meantime, click here to read about how this mishap will affect future ministry.

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