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Taking Liberties: Arrested for reading the Bible?

The video begins with Mark Mackey opening his Bible.

“Good morning, everyone,” he says to a group of 15 onlookers waiting outside the Hemet California Division of Motor Vehicles. “I would like to read a little bit of the word of God this morning.”

The video, shot in February of last year, ends with Mackey’s arrest.

“You can preach on your own property,” an officer from the California Highway Patrol tells Mackey as he leads him away in handcuffs. “Folks, this is what the United States is coming to,” Mackey says to the crowd, who were standing outside waiting for the DMV to open. “You can talk about anything you want, but you can’t talk about the Bible.”

Mackey is a reverend with Calvary Chapel Hemet, a conservative Christian church that practices an “evangelical ministry,” requiring public testimonials and Scripture readings.

Church officials believe Mackey was arrested because of “Christian bigotry.”

The officer who made the arrest disagrees, claiming he arrested Mackey for preaching to a public audience who had no choice but to listen.

“You’re not allowed to preach here," he told Mackey, “because this is a captive audience.”

Mackey’s lawyer calls that “ridiculous.”

“That doesn’t make sense in America,” says Robert Tyler of Advocates for Faith and Freedom, a non-profit law firm which defends Christian Liberties. “If the doctrine of the captive audience is going to apply broad brush, no one is going to be allowed to [preach in] a public park…that’s not America.”

Tyler also points out Mackey was cited for “impeding an open business,” but he points out the DMV wasn’t even open at the time.

“The DMV was closed,” he said. “They had no business arresting him.”

Not so, observes constitutional attorney Dan Conaway, saying those waiting for the DMV doors to open have no choice but to listen to Mackey.

“He's creating an intimidating situation for people who simply want to get their drivers licenses renewed,” says Conaway, who says it’s OK to preach in public, but not when your listeners can’t leave.

“He does not have the right to intimidate others and force them to listen and impede their ability to do normal business activities such as going to the DMV.”

Tyler points out that the “captive audience” statute requires more than simple intimidation.

“Mackey had to be threatening them. Is reading the Bible threatening?”

Tyler says that, in the end, Mackey has simply been charged with trespassing.

How can that be trespassing?” Tyler asks. “This is a public place. He was not blocking or impeding anyone. He was standing over 50 feet from the entrance. This is crazy.”

Mackey sees it in biblical terms.

“The devil is holding everyone captive to do his will," he said as he was led away. “Repent, and trust in Jesus Christ. Judgment Day is coming, folks.”

Douglas Kennedy currently serves as a correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC). He joined the network in 1996 and is based in New York.

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