A judge on Tuesday acquitted two men charged with unlawful protest for reading the Bible outside a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office in Hemet, Calif.
Riverside Court Superior Judge Timothy Freer ruled there wasn’t enough evidence to prove Pastor Bret Coronado of Reconciled Christian Fellowship and church elder Mark Mackey needed to obtain a permit before reading the Bible.
Police arrested the men more than a year ago after Coronado started reading the Bible out loud to the people standing in line waiting for the DMV to open. A California Highway Patrol (CHP) officer grabbed the Bible from Coronado and handcuffed him, saying he was not allowed to preach to a captive audience.
The penal code does not forbid preaching to a captive audience, so the officer claimed they were “obstructing or intimidating those attempting to carry on business.” But that code also did not apply because the men were standing 40 feet from the building on public property and the DMV had not opened yet.
When Advocates for Faith and Freedom filed a lawsuit against the CHP for unlawful arrest, the Riverside County district attorney changed the charge again to trespassing on state property: “No person shall hold or conduct any demonstration or gathering in or upon any state buildings or grounds unless a permit has been issued by Department.”
But Advocates for Faith and Freedom attorney Robert Tyler said the men’s actions did not match the definition of a demonstration and also argued that the law violated the First Amendment.
After the prosecutors rested their case, Tyler motioned for a directed verdict Tuesday, arguing the prosecution did not prove its case. Freer accepted the motion, saying they had insufficient proof the men conducted either a “demonstration or gathering.”
“These men were exercising their First Amendment right of free speech,” said Nic Cocis, defense attorney and co-counsel, in a statement. “They were simply sharing their faith on public property and the criminal charges should never have been filed.”
The lawsuit against the CHP for unlawful arrest will proceed.