Two men charged with holding an illegal demonstration after they read from the Bible to a group of people in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in 2011 were acquitted Tuesday, according to multiple sources.
Riverside County Superior Court judge Timothy Freer ruled there was insufficient evidence in the prosecutors' case against Brett Coronado, 44, and Mark Mackey, 60, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The men, who work for a church in San Jacinto, Calif., about 80 miles east of Los Angeles, were charged with trespassing under a California law that prohibits holding demonstrations on state grounds without a permit.
In February 2011, both men were arrested by the California Highway Patrol in the parking lot of the DMV after Mackey began reading from the Bible to the line of people waiting for the building to open.
In a YouTube video of the incident, Coronado, a pastor at the church, says the two saw the long lines at the DMV as an opportunity to "spread the gospel of Christ."
When a security guard tells Mackey to "go someplace else," Mackey refuses. When California Highway Patrol officer Darren Meyer arrives with handcuffs, Mackey asks, "What have I done wrong?"
"You can preach on your own property. You can preach on a street corner. But you're not allowed to preach here because this is a captive audience," Meyer can be heard saying in the video (above).
However, there is no California law against preaching to a captive audience, says the Advocates for Faith and Freedom, the nonprofit law firm that defended the two in court. The officer later cited the men for obstructing an open business, the law firm says.
“[Mackey is] creating an intimidating situation for people who simply want to get their drivers licenses renewed,” constitutional attorney Don Conaway told Fox News at the time. “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.”
Critics of the arrest point out that since the men were standing about 40-50 feet from the building's entrance, it is hard to argue they were impeding normal business activity.
If convicted, the men would have faced up to three months in prison and a $400 fine each, the LA Times reports.