Appeals Court Rules in Favor of California Christian Arrested for Reading Bible Aloud Outside DMV

PASADENA, Calif. — A federal appeals court has ruled in favor of a Christian who was arrested six years ago for reading the Bible aloud outside of a California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court decision on Wednesday that granted summary judgment to the police officer who arrested Mark Mackey for his Bible-reading. Mackey had civilly sued the officer following his arrest, a legal challenge that was then placed on hold until after he was exonerated in criminal court.

“It is refreshing to know that our system still works,” said co-counsel Nic Cocis in a statement. “The video evidence clearly contradicted the claims of the officer, but it took our appeal to the Ninth Circuit before justice could be realized. The officer and the CHP should be held accountable for their disregard of constitutional liberties.”

As previously reported, the incident occurred in February 2011 when Mackey, along with his pastor, Brett Coronado, and their friend Edward Florez, Jr., went to the DMV in Hemet early one morning to evangelize those who were waiting for the facility to open. As they stood in the publicly-owned parking lot, approximately 40 feet from the entrance, Mackey began to read out loud from the Bible.

However, soon after, he was approached by a security officer at the DMV, who asked him to move elsewhere. The men then asserted that they had a First Amendment right to engage in their activities, and Mackey continued to read from the Scriptures.

Approximately 10 minutes later, California patrol officer Darren Meyer arrived on the scene, grabbed Mackey’s Bible, and put him in handcuffs. He informed the men that they could not “preach to a captive audience.”

“This is what the United States is coming to,” Mackey began to call out, holding his hands behind his back.

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“You can preach on your own property,” Meyer said.

“What law was he breaking?” Coronado and Florez asked.

“Were you preaching too?” Meyer responded. “Do you want to leave or do you want to be arrested?”

When the men continued to inquire from a second officer as to why Mackey’s activities were considered unlawful, he put them both in handcuffs, citing them for “impeding an open business.”

After being released, the men retained the help of the Christian legal organization Advocates for Faith and Freedom, which soon filed a federal lawsuit against Meyer and California Highway Patrol.

However, Riverside County District Attorney Paul Zellerbach responded by charging two of the men, Mackey and Coronado, with trespassing for failing to obtain a permit to conduct a “demonstration or gathering in or upon any state buildings or grounds” and ordered the Christians to stand trial.

Prosecution had to prove at the 2013 trial that the men were engaged in a “demonstration or gathering” and had to establish that the men drew a crowd, as opposed to merely speaking in the vicinity of those who were waiting in line to enter the DMV. But as prosecutors did not meet the burden of proof, Mackey and Coronado were declared not guilty.

In light of his exoneration, Mackey requested that his civil suit consequently be resumed. In 2015, District Court Judge Molly Gee granted summary judgment to Meyer, who argued that he was entitled to qualified immunity because he had reason to arrest Mackey.

But Mackey appealed, and this week, the Ninth Circuit reversed Gee’s decision, opining that Meyer was rather in the wrong to arrest Mackey. It also found discrepancy between Meyer’s assertions and the video evidence.

“Upon arrival, Meyer encountered Mackey reading his Bible aloud in a dirt patch, neither obstructing or intimidating anyone in line,” the decision outlined. “Meyer avers that Mackey was ‘yelling at the people waiting in line,’ ‘that there was obvious verbal confrontation between the group of men and the people standing in line,’ and that the ‘confrontation was heated and nearing a physical state.'”

“That version of events is completely belied by video and audio footage which does not reveal any confrontations whatsoever, and merely shows Mackey reading the Bible aloud somewhat apart from people standing in line,” the court noted.

It also found that Meyer never asked Mackey whether or not he had a permit, so to arrest him for trespassing by failing to obtain a permit was unwarranted.

The judges remanded the case back to the lower court to handle further proceedings accordingly.

“An innocent man exercising his religious liberty and free speech was criminally prosecuted based on erroneous claims put forth by a false and deceitful police report,” said attorney Robert Tyler, who represented Mackey in court with Cocis. “Today’s decision renews my hope in the justice system.”

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  • Grace Kim Kwon

    All Americans need to hear the Holy Bible read aloud everywhere. Hearing of the Word of God brings life, and USA was created and raised for that purpose.

  • Judy Zwyghuizen

    I think it’s wonderful! freedom of speech anywhere and so many bad people out their need the lord!.This is crazy! And he was in Jail for 6 Year’s why don’t people want to hear any goodness??/ this man’s life was takin away for 6 Year’s this is un-Lawfull not right!

    • Amos Moses

      and yet he did it for the Glory of God ………..

    • Michael C

      And he was in Jail for 6 Year’s why don’t people want to hear any goodness??/ this man’s life was takin away for 6 Year’s this is un-Lawfull not right!

      I, too, am glad that our constitutional freedoms have been successfully defended but I also feel I must correct you…

      Mark Mackey spent zero time in jail. Not even a minute.

      Also, I question the efficacy of forcing others to listen to your preaching (people stuck waiting in line who can’t get away from you). I think this kind of thing would more than likely turn people away from what you’re trying to say rather than entice them.

  • cadcoke5

    I have both read, and heard from the source, several such stores, where a policeman who is hostile to the gospel, has both brought false charges against Christians, ignored a violet act against them. In one case, the officer ignored offers to show him a video of the event, and even brought false charges against the victim. In a case in Philly, the victim in this case had pro-life posters on his camper, and it was wrecked. The owner was prohibited from retrieving a lifetime of photographs and his personal bible with a lifetime of notes in it. Rather, those things were thrown away.

    • Rev Donald Spitz

      It has happened a lot to pro-life is. As best we can we should fight back because it affects other Christians doing the work of the Lord. They would totally silence us if they can.

  • Emmanuel

    God will always have the last word.

  • Rev Donald Spitz

    I’m so glad these men fought back.

  • barbie5944

    God bless these persons for fighting back…our constitutional rights have been and are being attacked..all of us need to stand up to the ones who want God out of our country, the country He purposed from the beginning of time…pray, stand and fight with the Lord’s help and truth…

  • HpO

    Lucky for Mark Allen Mackey this time, I guess, because California Penal Code Section 602.1 is actually on his side, by protecting him for simply fitting the description of “Any person on the premises who is engaging in activities protected by the California Constitution or the United States Constitution.”

    But whether evangelistically effective or not – inter-communication-wise with people already turned off by his methodology – that’s really up to him to discern in the Spirit of God, then just wise up, isn’t it?

    • Most people are always going to be “turned off” by the Gospel. The offence of the Cross. That is par for the course. One cannot get much more basic than reading Scripture from the Holy Bible itself, publickly.

  • HpO

    Question: Was it approved and blessed by their senior church pastor, what Brett Anthony Coronado and Mark Allen Mackey were doing on that fateful morning of February 2, 2011?

    (1) “(Brett Anthony) Coronado and (Mark Allen) Mackey have since parted ways with Calvary Chapel Hemet, according to Gary Johnson, senior pastor at Calvary Chapel Hemet.” (Murrieta Patch, January 7th 2012)

    (2) “Coronado and Mackey are no longer part of Calvary Chapel Church in Hemet. They have formed their own church, Reconciled Fellowship, said Calvary Chapel Pastor Gary Johnston.  Johnston said in an email that the men had almost been arrested several times prior to the incident and knew they needed a permit prior to going to the DMV.  ‘I had been attempting to temper their style of evangelism,’ Johnston said. ‘They revolted at the idea that they were wrong and eventually left the church'” (The Press-Enterprise, March 29, 2012).

  • HpO

    Question: What sort of evangelism were Brett Anthony Coronado and Mark Allen Mackey really doing on that fateful morning of February 2, 2011?

    (1) “‘These two men were just exercising their First Amendment right to free speech, simply sharing their faith on public property …,’ Nic Cocis, the defendants’ other attorney, told City News Service.” (Murrieta Patch, August 14, 2013)

    (2) “the two saw the long lines at the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) as an opportunity to ‘spread the gospel of Christ.'” (Huffington Post, Aug 14, 2013)

    (3) “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. … Coronado said the purpose was to spread the gospel to the people lined up outside, waiting for the DMV to open.” (Murrieta Patch, August 14, 2013)

    (4) They “gathered in front of the Hemet DMV … before opening hours to read aloud bible verses. The men were reportedly standing 40 feet from the entrance of the DMV as Hemet residents gathered outside, waiting for the establishment to open.” (Christian Post, Aug 7, 2013)

    (5) “Mark Mackey’s reading was part of the church’s evangelism ministry which regularly reads Scripture and hands out tracts in city parks and at the courthouse.  … Mackey reading the Bible aloud, (was) somewhat apart from people standing in line.” (CBN News, 01-13-2017)

    (6) “Mackey reading his bible aloud in a dirt patch, (was) neither obstructing nor intimidating anyone in line” (Law Newz, January 14th, 2017).

  • jackbutler5555

    Obnoxiousness is legal.

  • jackbutler5555

    The religion promoter can speak his mind just like the atheist can. Anyone disagree?

  • HpO

    Question: Can street preaching be engaging, meaningful and non-self-alienating – how?

    (1) “a street preacher proclaiming the gospel in quieter, almost conversational tones, can at times draw a larger crowd than the largest set of ‘pipes.’  People naturally come closer to hear what is being said.  … The effectiveness of (street preaching) should be determined … by how consistently you speak the truth in love … (by t)he level of respect you show toward others … by how clear your own conscience is regarding the manner in which you herald the gospel … by how well you interact with law enforcement … by the number of still, quiet, anonymous faces you reach in the crowd who are clinging to the words of Christ coming from your lips.  … Street preacher, do the people to whom you herald the gospel still hear the love in your voice? Can they still see the love in your eyes? Is yours a shoulder on which to cry? Is your hand on their shoulder a welcome comfort to the one who is lost?” (CARM, Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry, undated, retrieved January 15, 2017)

    (2) “if classic street preaching is your thing, then my suggestion is that location, and your ability to engage with strangers is just as important as your message.  Because without an audience that’s interested in engaging at some level, you’re only confirming to them that Christians are probably just crazy.” (Phil Cooke, October 29, 2013)