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FBI Accused of Secretly Investigating Christian Street Preacher, Placing Him on Terrorist Watch List

WASHINGTON, D.C. — According to information provided to The Rutherford Institute, the FBI has been conducting a secret investigation into the associations and activities of a Christian street preacher and is believed to have added the preacher to its terrorist watch list. Inclusion on the FBI’s terrorist watch list, which is a secret list maintained by the government, can hamper one’s ability to travel and can result in heightened governmental surveillance. In a letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller, John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, called on the agency head to either cease the FBI’s investigation of Michael Marcavage, a street preacher well known for publicly exercising his First Amendment rights to free speech and religious expression, or make known the charges being made against him.

“Michael Marcavage deserves to know why he is under investigation and whether he has, in fact, been placed on the FBI’s terrorist watch list. However, if, as we suspect, Marcavage is guilty of nothing more than engaging in nonviolent religious speech which government officials perceive as controversial, then the government has clearly overstepped its constitutional bounds,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “This sort of secret investigation, which is antithetical to the principles of a free society, has a chilling and deleterious effect on the ability of all Americans to exercise their First Amendment right to free speech.”

Christian street preacher Michael Marcavage, the director of an evangelism ministry whose mission is the public proclamation of the Gospel, regularly travels the country preaching in traditional public forums, distributing Christian literature, and engaging passersby in discussions about the Christian faith. Marcavage recently learned that the FBI has been requesting “interviews” with his friends and associates in order to interrogate them about his activities. Subsequently, a reliable source informed Marcavage that he was the object of an FBI investigation and that his name had been added to the FBI’s terror watch list, the Terrorist Screening Database, based on his alleged affiliation with an anti-abortion group known as the “Army of God.” Inclusion on the terrorist watch list, which is a secret list maintained by the government, can hamper one’s ability to travel and can result in heightened governmental surveillance. Concerned that his placement on such a list could have a chilling effect on his expressive activities, Marcavage asked The Rutherford Institute to intervene on his behalf.

In his letter to Mueller, Whitehead points out that under Homeland Security Presidential Directive 6 (HSPD-6), in order to be placed on the terrorist watch list, an individual must be known to be a terrorist or must be reasonably suspected of being a terrorist. Moreover, Marcavage, who has devoted himself to peaceful advocacy and who has never been involved in terrorism nor associated with any terrorist organizations, including the so-called Army of God, does not meet the criteria laid out in Directive 6. Thus, Whitehead insists that the FBI make known the reasons why Marcavage has been placed under investigation, confirm or deny Marcavage’s presence on the FBI’s terrorist watch list, and if the concerns about him prove to be unfounded, as Marcavage insists they must be, or are related solely to Marcavage’s nonviolent speech activities, that his name be removed from the terrorist watch list immediately.

The Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit civil liberties organization, provides legal assistance at no charge to individuals whose constitutional rights have been threatened or violated.