Federal Courts Toss Lawsuit Against School Sued for Canceling Sharia Event

AP Photo/Dave Martin
AP Photo/Dave Martin
Washington, DC

A federal appeals court on Friday affirmed a trial court’s dismissal of a lawsuit against a city and school system that were sued for canceling an event featuring speakers who oppose Sharia law in America.

Four individuals, including a Michigan lawmaker, David Agema, wanted to conduct an event at a public school in Allegan, Michigan. The event was to build support for Agema’s legislation to prevent Sharia law (i.e., Islamic law) from being used in Michigan and to warn about the public dangers the speakers believe Islam presents to Americans.

Kamal Saleem was scheduled to be one of the speakers. Police became aware that Islamic terrorists had put some sort of bounty on Saleem’s head, after which local officials canceled the event.

Agema and the other organizers filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan against the school, local police, and city, alleging viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution.

The federal district court dismissed the case, holding that the plaintiffs’ lawyers had failed to assert the necessary facts and law in their court pleadings to allow the suit to go forward. The court also held that although the defendants have offered to settle the suit, that plaintiffs could not prevail in that fashion because they made a counteroffer to settle, rather than accept the defendants’ settlement offer.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. The three-judge appellate panel agreed with the lower court that the pleadings filed in the trial court were deficient in not fulfilling the minimum standards of asserting facts to show that the plaintiffs were making plausible legal arguments and, therefore, that the case must be dismissed.

Writing for the court, Judge Bernice Donald emphasized that the court was not ruling on whether local officials had actually violated the First Amendment. Instead, Donald wrote, “Since the complaint did not allege sufficient facts to find an applicable municipal policy or custom, we need not address the parties’ arguments about whether the complaint plausibly alleged a deprivation of constitutional rights.”

All three judges from the Cincinnati-based appeals court also reversed, in part, the trial court’s decision, holding that when the government defendants had offered to settle the case, the plaintiffs had properly accepted the offer, so the case should have ended. By a 2-1 vote, the panel sent that part of the case back to the lower court for additional hearings.

Judge Gilbert Merritt concurred in much of the opinion but also dissented in part.

Merritt joined the panel in faulting plaintiffs’ lawyers for failing “to adequately allege that officials acted unreasonably in terminating the event.” But he broke with the panel by also ruling on the lawsuit’s legal claims, concluding that school and police officials canceled the event out of concern for public safety, “and the preservation of public safety on the grounds of a school is an unquestionably high priority for public officials.”

Merritt also took the unusual step of weighing in on a hot-button political debate, expressing his personal political view that “guns are too easily accessible for almost everyone,” thereby criticizing current laws regarding gun ownership and providing his personal opinion that it should be more difficult for American citizens to exercise their Second Amendment rights.

Merritt also incorrectly asserted that “mass killings in public places are a frequent occurrence” in recent years. This claim is contradicted by the fact that mass shootings have decreased in America—not increased—over the past two decades, a statistic acknowledged even by anti-gun outlets like The Washington Post. (It is worth noting that Merritt cites no sources or authorities.)

Sending the case back to the lower court, the plaintiffs nonetheless appear almost certain to win the lawsuit, but on the ground that the local officials had offered to settle the case, and the appeals court ruled that the plaintiffs had properly accepted the offer, making them the prevailing parties to the lawsuit.

The case is Agema v. City of Allegan.

Ken Klukowski is legal editor for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @kenklukowski.