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Sharia enforcement at Mall of America

It's been about 5 1/2 years since the City of Dearborn decided to settle out of court in the lawsuit brought by David Wood and ex-Muslim Nabeel Qureshi over the unconstitutional arrest and prosecution of Wood and Qureshi when they were talking with Muslims about Jesus at the Arab festival. A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then, and our brother Nabeel has gone to the arms of our Savior as a result of stomach cancer. But the sweetness of that legal victory remains.

Now a new case has come up that bears notable, though not perfect, similarities to the arrest of Wood and Qureshi.

Ex-Muslim pastor Ramin Parsa, who has lived in the United States for years after coming here from Iran, was arrested in August, 2018, for alleged trespassing at the Mall of America.

As Parsa tells the story (and he can bring witnesses to testify to this effect) he went to the MoA with no intention of tract-passing or systematically witnessing at all but simply as a sight-seer from out of town. He was in the Minneapolis area to speak at a local church and was invited afterwards to visit the mall. While there, he says, he fell into unpremeditated conversation with some Somali women. When they heard that he was from Iran, they asked if he was Muslim. He said that he used to be but that he is now a Christian. They asked him why he left Islam. He began to answer by telling them his story of conversion. A woman not involved in the conversation overheard it and complained to a security guard. When the guard came, says Parsa, the other Somali women backed up his account--that he was not harassing them, that they had asked him questions spontaneously in the course of conversation. (Some of these details are coming from a radio interview on a Christian radio station that I was listening to on Wednesday, though most of them are in the linked story.) Parsa explained that he was not "soliciting," the supposed offense, and that the conversation had arisen spontaneously. The guard simply walked away at that point. Parsa does not say how the conversation ended with the Somali women, but he and his friends went and got some coffee. As they came out of the coffee shop, they were confronted with three guards who insisted that he leave the mall, because he was "soliciting." Once again, Parsa tried to explain that he was not soliciting, that he was just there to see the mall. At that point, they handcuffed him and hauled him off to the mall jail where he was cuffed to a chair for hours, not allowed to use or answer his phone. The police came, accepted the mall guards' account, and arrested him formally. He's been charged with trespassing.

Parsa made the shrewd comment on the radio interview that if the mall guards were arresting him for soliciting or telling him to leave because he was soliciting, it is odd that they did not arrest his companions, who were presumably at the mall to engage in the same activities as he was.

Parsa says that he tried to explain to the guards that he's a pastor, and they said (rather eerily), "We've arrested pastors before."

The mills of the law grind slowly, and Parsa's case only came up for pre-trial hearing on December 11. According to his Facebook page, the prosecutor did not drop the case. Parsa says, "There is a settlement conference date set for March 7th 2019 and if they don’t settle the case by then, I will go to trial on April 29th 2019." Apparently the legal system of Minneapolis has nothing better to do with its time and money than to prosecute Parsa.

The dissimilarities between Parsa's case and the case of Qureshi and Wood are rather interesting. They went to the festival expressly intending to strike up conversations about Islam in the hopes of opening hearts and minds to the Gospel. Parsa says that he went to the mall with no such intention and had only one informal, unplanned conversation. They were able to bring a direct First Amendment suit given that their conversation took place on a public street. Parsa was arrested for allegedly trespassing on "private" property at the MoA, which apparently has a no soliciting policy.

But let's suppose for the moment that Parsa's account is true and that he was not doing anything remotely like going up to random strangers and trying to witness to them. Let's suppose that the conversation really arose accidentally and naturally and that he was answering spontaneous questions from the women. It seems highly unlikely that the MoA can get away with having a "no conversations about Christianity" policy, private property or not. It may even be that the MoA receives some public largesse, from the city if not the state, making them potentially a governmental entity. But suppose they don't. What about religious non-discrimination law? One hardly thinks that the courts would look favorably upon any businessman, even one running a small sandwich shop, much less a huge, semi-public mall, in which he monitored the conversations among all of his customers and evicted all who discussed religion with one another, using the power of his private guards to do so and the police to arrest for "trespassing" anyone who tried to dissent from the policy. That would be overt religious discrimination.

Of course there are, as in all such policy areas, gray areas. One can imagine over-eager evangelists who would try to exploit such gray areas to do what presumably the mall means by "soliciting" while claiming that they were "just having a conversation." But as in any such issues, there are clear cases that fall on one side or another. Standing in the middle of the mall passing out leaflets for one's church and asking people if they have a moment to talk about Jesus is what the mall tries to prohibit as "soliciting." Parsa doesn't give all the circumstances, but one can easily imagine how one might literally just fall into conversation with someone--at a store counter, while looking at the sights, etc.--and the subject of one's religious conversion might come up naturally, as Parsa says it did. This cannot possibly be prohibited. It would therefore be surprising if it were illegal for Parsa to attempt to explain the situation (politely, he insists) to the three security guards rather than wordlessly leaving the mall when they ordered him to, since he was not in fact violating the "no soliciting" policy.

Then again, we live in a world where police sometimes shoot people dead for no good reason at traffic stops, so it's possible that the security guards at the mall were partly afflicted by a sort of enforcer's God-complex. There's plenty of that going around.

But there seems to be something more here. The woman who originally complained was (I think this is undeniable, unless Parsa is just totally lying) annoyed by the content of the conversation. If we guess (not implausibly) that she was Muslim and did not like the fact that Parsa was telling a story of his conversion from Islam, she may have lied to the original guard. When that guard showed up and the other women did not back her story, apparently he did not drop the matter, though he easily could have. He could have told the woman, "Sorry, they are talking with this man, and they don't agree that he is harassing them. You don't have to stay here and listen if you don't like the content of their conversation." And when the whole thing fizzled out and Parsa and his friends went to get coffee, the guard went and got others (I don't know if he was one of the three) and tried to get Parsa evicted. Once again, was this just because he was annoyed that Parsa didn't bow to his accusation of "soliciting" in their first conversation? Or was it at least in part because the guards anticipated that the original complainant would expect them to make sure Parsa was kicked out?

That the initial complaint against Parsa was motivated by the fact that he was saying things that a Muslim bystander did not like seems hard to question. She presumably wanted him evicted for that reason alone. From then on, things may have snowballed simply because security guards want everyone to ask, "How high?" when they say, "Jump." But the upshot, much as in the Dearborn case, is that the Islamic squeaky wheel gets the grease. Muslims who do not want Christians to talk to other Muslims can exercise a de facto veto over such speech, with the police helping. In this case, this seems to have happened even when the person in question was not systematically attempting to approach others and have such conversations.

This is, to put it mildly, not good. It's hardly a good representation of American freedom to Parsa, and that it occurred in the Mall of America is more than a tad ironic. At the moment Parsa is just interested in how his "trespassing" case will go in March, but it looks to my layman's eye like he has sound grounds for a countersuit for religious discrimination.

Comments (4)

I expect America to face these issues with more courage and principle than Europe (the UK in particular!). I'll be keeping a close eye on this case.

If it were England, evidence indicates that Wood and Qureshi would have lost their case in Dearborn as well. I expect MoA to push its "private status" to the hilt here. Still, I'm rather surprised that the prosecutor is pursuing it as a case of trespassing, given the obvious religious discrimination issues.

Unfortunately, the prosecutor may be pushing the case not in any hopes of winning it, but as a grandstand for political reasons, to further his aspirations for public office, maybe. Even a losing case fought for the "right side' (i.e. pro-muslim) would advance some ambitions in certain cases. What is worrisome is that there is a locale not near Dearborn that could harbor such motivations for political advancement, i.e. that such grandstanding could be realistically viewed as advantageous. I suppose that the prosecutor may be wildly miscalculating whether other enough wildly-left liberals will support his throwing the Constitution under the bus for the sake of the newest "victim" on the block, in sufficient numbers for political ambition. But prosecutors aren't trained to miscalculate like that. Another possibility is that the prosecutor himself is Muslim, but there can't be that many in such positions yet.

I suppose that Parsa may angle for a cash settlement for clearly erroneous arrest, but I don't know what constitutes "clearly erroneous" in cases like this. If the original complainant simply lied about what Parsa was doing, they might have a fair argument that it wasn't a bad arrest. Mall guards don't have the duty or venue of sorting out competing claims of he-said, she-said, that's what courts are for, isn't it? Still, there should be SOME kind of standard that one can go by, which objective facts could play in to: he had no printed tracts on him, he was not speaking out in a loud voice to many, his other conversationalists and his own friends tell the same story, etc. There has to be a dividing line between police error and "bad arrest", or we could never have police hauled up for making bad arrests. Of course, that's what some people say is the current situation.

It really surprises me that the prosecutor didn't drop it. One can say that the original woman lied to the mall guard, but in that case why did they arrest him *after* the conversation was no longer going on and he was just getting coffee? That looks weird. One can say that the police just take the word of the mall guards that he was breaking the mall policies. But by the time it gets up to the prosecutor, he should look at it and drop it.

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