Murrieta, Calif. – An attorney for two Christians who were vindicated in court this week after being arrested in 2011 for reading the Bible outside of a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office in California says that the case resembled more of his childhood memories of communist Romania more than the USA.
As previously reported, Pastor Brett Coronado of Reconciled Christian Fellowship in Hemet and church elder Mark Mackey had been on trial the past week and facing misdemeanor trespassing charges for reading the Bible aloud in the DMV parking lot without a permit. On Tuesday, a Riverside County judge declared the men “not guilty,” opining that the prosecution failed to prove that they had violated the law.
Nic Cocis is one of the attorneys that defended Coronado and Mackey at trial. While he has served as a criminal defense attorney in Murrieta, California for the past 14 years, Cocis grew up in communist Romania, and has witnessed persecution firsthand at the hands of tyranny. He recounted to Christian News Network what he experienced in Romania as a child, and explained why he believes that Christians in America must fight for freedom today to keep the nation from plunging into the same fate.
“At that time, the Church as a whole was persecuted because Romania was a dictatorship,” Cocis, who left Romania in 1983 at the age of 13, recalled. “The president at that time was really wanting to control how people thought or how they congregated. … He was interested in churches specifically because that’s where people congregated. He didn’t want people in the churches to get together because he was afraid of an uprising.”
He recounted that when his brothers decided to get baptized in church, and school officials learned of the matter, they called his brothers forward during a student assembly to use them as an example of how youth were not to live and believe in a communist nation.
Cocis said that he was also scrutinized at school.
“I was constantly questioned by teachers [about] what takes place at church, and what people talk about at the church,” he remembered. “They wanted to know what was going on.”
After that time, the Cocis family sought to leave Romania to find religious freedom. One of Nic’s brothers escaped with a young man and woman who were also Christians, and fled to America while the rest of the Cocis family remained. However, the Cocis household then began to be watched closely by the Romanian government.
“My parents began to be followed by the security forces to see where they were going [and] what they were doing,” he recounted. “Our phones were being tapped whenever my brother would call from America … and our mail was read too [as] the letters we would receive were unsealed and cut open.”
Approximately 6-9 months before their departure to America, Cocis’ parents were both fired from their jobs and Nic was kicked out of school. The family was also forced to denounce their Romanian citizenship and to pay a fee for doing so.
Cocis said that after immigrating to the United States, the experience influenced his desire to be an attorney.
“I didn’t want that to happen here,” he said.
Therefore, when Cocis, who has now been practicing law for 14 years, learned that Christians had been arrested in Hemet for reading the Bible aloud outside of the DMV office, he felt compelled to help defend the men in court.
“You would expect that to happen in Romania in 1983, not in the U.S. in 2013,” he said. “From the first time I saw the video, I wanted to be involved in this case. I felt like I needed to be involved in this case because of my background.”
Cocis explained that it was disturbing to observe the aggressive nature of both the California Highway Patrol and the Riverside County district attorney’s office.
“In the video, the officer just walks up, not knowing anything about the case, not knowing if any of these individuals had a permit to be there,” he noted. “He just walks up, grabs the Bible from the man’s hand and says, ‘You’re under arrest.’”
In regard to the prosecution, he explained, “They had 16 witnesses listed on their witness list, which is unheard of in a misdemeanor case of this nature.”
However, as previously reported, Pastor Brett Coronado and elder Mark Mackey were vindicated in court this Tuesday as Judge Timothy Freer agreed with Cocis and co-counsel Robert Tyler of Advocates for Faith and Freedom that the prosecution had failed to prove that the men violated the law.
Cocis said that he is thankful for the outcome of the trial and the attentiveness of the judge, but advised that Christians should not become lax about their duty to fight injustice.
“Times are changing. Americans in general, but Christians specifically, need to be on guard,” he stated. “You have to be grateful for the Constitution that we have, for the freedoms that we have and you’ve got to guard them. We’ve got to be able to push back.”
He compared the duty of Christians to a popular photograph of a lone civilian stopping a line-up of large tanks in China’s Tiennamen Square.
“To me, that’s what we have to do as Christians,” he said. “To me, the tanks represent the full force and might of the state. But there’s the [lone] individual, if he stands up and puts his arms out, he can stop all those tanks.”
“That’s how I see the work in this case,” Cocis stated.