One man (call him A) wore a costume in a parade that another man (call him B) found offensive. B then made physical contact with A, trying to take his sign and possibly his beard. A and B found a police officer – B because he thought what A did was illegal, A because B harrassed him.
What A did was entirely legal. B admitted to the police officer that he physically contacted A.
B was tried without a jury. The judge dismissed the charges, claiming the story was one man’s word against another. The judge spent several minutes telling A that he was insensitive for the way in which he exercised his freedom of speech. The judge said nothing to B about the inappropriate way he chose to confront A.
Having watched the video of this altercation (which, unfortunately, was not admitted as evidence in the trial), I’m pretty sufficiently convinced that inappropriate physical contact was made. Regardless of how offensive A’s actions may have been to B, B had no right to touch him.
Let’s add more details. A was Ernest Perce. He dressed as a zombie Muhammad in a Halloween parade and carried a sign that many Muslims would find offensive. B was a Muslim. He said he was offended and surprise by the zombie Muhammad, so he approached Perce and tried to take his sign. Perce claims the Muslim grabbed at his sign and his beard. It is unclear if any more physical contact was made (this isn’t surprising because when in a physical altercation, it isn’t easy to keep track of exactly what happened).
Both men contacted the police. The Muslim man seriously thought dressing up as Muhammad was illegal. Perce filed a statement saying that the Muslim made physical contact with intent to cause alarm with Perce. The police officer spoke to both men the night of the incident, and testified that the Muslim man said he made contact with Perce.
During the trial, the Muslim man claims he did not make physical contact despite his earlier statements.
The lawyer for this Muslim claims that because the man believed Perce was doing something illegal and disrespectful, he had a right to confront Perce and was not trying to alarm, annoy or harass Perce.
Having listened to the trial, I understand the judge’s decision. Without the video of the incident (I highly recommend watching this – it’s only 1 minute and 20 seconds long) it might be hard to convict the Muslim man for harassment.
If that were the end of it, it’d be unfortunate, but reasonable. It was not the end of it.
Judge Mark Martin felt it was reasonable to bring up that depicting Muhammad would, in many other countries, would result in a death sentence. He goes on to tell Perce that Christianity is just a religion, while Islam is a culture and the essence of people, “their very being.” He goes on and on about Islam. Apparently, Perce “completely trashed their very being.”
Judge Mark Martin says, “I’m a Muslim. I find it offensive.”
He claims Perce is “way outside [his] bounds” of free speech. He tell Perce that people like him are the reason why other countries call us “ugly Americans.”
This is disgusting. Martin was within reason when he determined that it had not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant had, with the intent to harass, annoy, or alarm, made physical contact with Perce.
He was not within reason to go on and on about how insensitive Perce was being or how he thought the defendant was not trying to harass, annoy or alarm Perce. It’s funny that Martin first says he can’t even tell if physical contact was made, then goes on to (poorly) justify that the defendant did not intend to harass, annoy, or alarm. If someone is trying to take your costume beard off or take your sign, they are certainly trying to alarm you. They may think they’re simply defending their principles, but such a defense is quite clearly going to alarm or at least annoy the subject that it’s ridiculous to say it is otherwise.
The judge seems extremely incapable of separating the important details of the case from the fact that Perce was doing something that most Muslims find offensive. You do not have a right not to be offended in the United States. In other words, there is no part of the Bill of Rights limiting freedom of speech to only that which won’t offend. The judge was out of line on so many levels. It’s actually rather frightening.