Flores says “the guards bullied us and tried to intimidate us.” He watched them force Parsa’s hands behind his back and handcuff him. Two guards escorted Flores and his son out of the mall. Other guards brought Parsa to a basement holding area. Parsa says they kept him tied to a chair for more than three hours, not allowing him food, drink, or a phone. Police then arrived and charged him with criminal trespass. He bailed himself out around 2 a.m.
Anthony Bushnell, Parsa’s attorney, says mall security guards singled out Parsa for discussing religion: Such discrimination violates public accommodation laws and the First Amendment. Parsa and his advisors decided not to keep quiet about the arrest: He told his story to Christian publications and on Christian radio.
Last month Mike Hartley, deputy chief of Bloomington police, told me “Parsa was approaching people to talk about his religion, forcing dialogue, and those people complained.” He said Parsa would not stop and stated that this incident is no different than if Parsa were preaching on a megaphone in a private space.
The case was scheduled to go to trial on April 29, but on March 7 Bloomington officials came to their senses and dropped the charges. It’s not really a victory for religious liberty: The court documents say Parsa may not go to the mall for a probationary period of one year, and Parsa may pursue legal action against the mall. The question is still open: Can visitors to a mall discuss religion in a venue touting “America” in its name?
—Sharon Dierberger is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute’s mid-career course