The facts seem pretty clear-cut. Under the banner of the Parading Atheists of Central Pennsylvania, Ernest Perce dressed up as Zombie Muhamed and exercised his inalienable right to assemble and speak freely while participating in a Halloween parade in Mechanicsburg, PA. Unfortunately, those rights were infringed when Mr. Elbayomy came out of the crowd and tried yank off his sign and fake beard. The video:
Even though the cop near the scene heard Mr. Elbayomy corroborate what took place (after all, the attacker mistakenly believed that it was a crime in America to insult Islam and its prophet), the judge not only threw out the case, but admonished Mr. Perce.
Before you start mocking someone else’s religion you may want to find out a little bit more about it. That makes you look like a doofus.
And Mr. Thomas [Elbayomi's defense lawyer] is correct. In many other Muslim speaking countries – excuse me, in many Arabic speaking countries – call it “Muslim” – something like this is definitely against the law there. In their society, in fact, it could be punishable by death, and it frequently is, in their society.
Here in our society, we have a constitution that gives us many rights, specifically, First Amendment rights. It’s unfortunate that some people use the First Amendment to deliberately provoke others. I don’t think that’s what our forefathers really intended. I think our forefathers intended that we use the First Amendment so that we can speak our mind, not to piss off other people and other cultures, which is what you did.
I don’t think you’re aware, sir, there’s a big difference between how Americans practice Christianity – uh, I understand you’re an atheist. But, see, Islam is not just a religion, it’s their culture, their culture. It’s their very essence, their very being. They pray five times a day towards Mecca. To be a good Muslim, before you die, you have to make a pilgrimage to Mecca unless you are otherwise told you cannot because you are too ill, too elderly, whatever. But you must make the attempt.
Their greetings, “Salaam alaikum,” “Alaikum wa-salaam,” “May God be with you.” Whenever — it is very common — their language, when they’re speaking to each other, it’s very common for them to say, uh, “Allah willing, this will happen.” It is — they are so immersed in it.
Then what you have done is you’ve completely trashed their essence, their being. They find it very, very, very offensive.
I’m a Muslim, I find it offensive. F’Im a Muslim, I’d find it offensive. [Unintelligble] aside was very offensive.
But you have that right, but you’re way outside your bounds on First Amendment rights.
The only thing I see that is outside the bounds is the judge's admonishment and his strange understanding of the First Amendment. Apparently, it's OK to speak your mind, just don't piss anybody off. Incredible. And here I was thinking that the First Amendment protected speech, even speech that others found offensive. Jon Turley:
I fail to see the relevance of the victim’s attitude toward Muslims or religion generally. He had a protected right to walk in the parade and not be assaulted for his views. While the judge laments that “[i]t’s unfortunate that some people use the First Amendment to deliberately provoke others,” that is precisely what the Framers had in mind if Thomas Paine is any measure.
Notably, reports indicate that Elbayomy called police because he thought it was a crime to be disrespectful to Muhammed. The judge appears to reference this by noting that in some countries you can be put to death for such an offense. Those countries are called oppressive countries. This is a free country where it is not a crime to insult someone’s religion — despite a counter-trend in some Western countries.
I also do not see how the judge believes that he has the authority to tell a religious critic that “before you start mocking somebody else’s religion, you might want to find out a little more about it.” Let alone call a person a “doofus” because he opposes religion.
To make matters worse, the judge is reportedly threatening Perce with contempt for posting the audio of the hearing.
The reference to the cultural motivations for assaulting Perce seems to raise a type of cultural defense. I have spent years discussing this issue with state and federal judges on the proper role of culture in criminal and civil cases. This is not a case where I would view that defense as properly raised. There are certainly constitutional (and yes cultural) norms that must be accepted when joining this Republic. One is a commitment to free speech. If culture could trump free speech, the country would become the amalgamation of all extrinsic cultures — protecting no one by protecting everyone’s impulses. Those countries referenced by the court took a different path — a path away from civil liberties and toward religious orthodoxy. It is a poor example to raise except as an example of what we are not. The fact that this man may have formed his views in such an oppressive environment does not excuse his forcing others to adhere to his religious sentiments.
Martin’s comments also heighten concerns over the growing trend toward criminalizing anti-religious speech in the use of such standards as the Brandenburg test, a position supported by the Obama Administration.
There are legitimate uses of the culture defense. However, when it comes to free speech, that is not just our controlling constitutional right but the touchstone of our culture.
I can understand the judge’s claims of conflicting testimony on the crime –though it seems to be that the officer’s testimony and the tape would resolve those doubts. However, I view this as an extremely troubling case that raises serious questions of judicial temperament, if not misconduct.
Exactly. Volokh has more here, including the judge's side of the story. However, the judge's version does not negate the stupidity of his decision.