This Is Important: Depicting Muhammad Not Covered By Free Speech?

I posted about this before, but I think I need to point it out again.

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.

Other links: Canada Free Press; Yahoo!; Opposing Views; Jonathan Turley

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16 thoughts on “This Is Important: Depicting Muhammad Not Covered By Free Speech?

  1. Chris says:

    While I think the Muslim should get some time for assault, I think what is being ignored here is that the nihilist should get time for conspiricy to incite a riot. What he was doing was definitely not 1st admendment free speech. What opinion could he have possibly been trying to get across?

    • “Not 1st amendment free speech”? Okay, what kind of free speech was it? He was 1)dressing up for a Halloween parade and 2)trying to share his unfavorable opinion and impression of Islam. He was also probably making the statement that you cannot simply demand that people “respect your beliefs” and “not depict Muhammad” because it offends you. In other words, he was making many statements that should be protected by the 1st amendment including one that says even offensive speech is protected.

      As for your claim that the “nihilist,” which he is not, should “get time for conspiricy to incite a riot,”* you are simply wrong. As he was not attending an Islamic event, there could be no expectation on his part that he would “incite a riot.” To suggest that he was conspiring to do so is quite silly.

      You insult Perce and all atheists and nonbelievers by calling him a nihilist when he chooses to identify as an Atheist. They are not the same thing. You would do well to learn that.

      *You spelled conspiracy wrong.

  2. Chris says:

    I think causing chaos without reason is enough justification to call him a nihilist. He was not offering any constructive ideas about Islam, he just wanted to see who he could make feel bad.

    • Oh, so you have a personal relationship with Ernest Perce? And he told you he was not offering any constructive ideas?

      • Chris says:

        I don’t have a personal relationship with Ernest Perce, but I am used to open forums with constructive dialogue.

        • Having watched the man’s show, I think it’s pretty safe to say that his constructive idea is that people should be able to mock religious figures without receiving death threats. Currently, depicting Muhammad is a statement in and of itself. When all Muslims realize that blasphemy against their religion is not something they can assassinate or physically threaten people for, then you can go ahead and tell me that dressing up as Muhammad makes no worthwhile point.

          I tried to be constructive in my first response. You flew in the face of that by telling me a second time that Perce was “causing chaos without reason.” I might add that this is not an “open forum.” It’s a blog.

          • Chris says:

            Hi Amanda, I’m sorry I wasn’t clear. When I said “I’m used to open forums with constructive dialogue.” I was not commenting on our discussion in this blog. Rather, I was commenting on the fact that I can see Pearce is not giving any sort of constructive comment.

            And on that point, I still don’t see how it could be constructive. Mockery does not express anything except a desire to insult.

    • MJ says:

      I don’t know the man in question, so I won’t make any claims about his motivation. But even if you are correct in your assumptions, “not offering constructive criticism” and “wanting to see who he could make feel bad” are not the same as inciting a riot or even “causing chaos.”

      • Chris says:

        When you insult people you are trying to hurt them. While I agree, as I noted earlier, that the Muslim here was wrong and should get some sort of legal punishment like jail, but Pearce is not innocent here either. Just because what Pearce did can probably be construed to some justices as “technically legal”, since the burden of proof is so generous, his intentions to hurt, insult, mock, and cause harm are really clear.

      • MJ says:

        It’s not possible to reply directly, so forgive the odd formatting here.

        I think we both agree that what the individual who attacked Mr. Perce was out of line. I’ll also state that I think, based on the info provided, that the judge made a perfectly valid legal decision. I’ll also state that, even though I am an atheist and this may make some think otherwise, I’m not a huge fan of people intentionally mocking or deriding others’ religious views.

        However, expressing a mocking viewpoint, even if the intent is to upset people, is not illegal. It’s not technically legal, either. It’s completely legal. Hurt feelings are not a criminal legal complaint. I’m an atheist who was raised in the South. I’ve had my religious views mocked and derided. I’ve had people furious at me because I didn’t believe what they believed in. Have I been pissed off or hurt by this? Yes. Have I wanted them to either be legally silenced or be afraid of legal repercussions due to their viewpoints, no matter how distasteful I may find them? No. Because I want to be able to express my views, no matter what, without fear of legal retaliation. Because some find my atheism as as offensive and hurtful as I find their mocking of my atheism, and who gets to decide which is “worse”? That should not be a decision for the court, as it’s a religious discussion and my views and those who disagree with me are protected no matter how much we may upset one another. The court system should only infringe on free speech in extreme instances. This is not an extreme instance.

        My disagreement with your earlier comment is that by mocking a religion he was causing either chaos or inciting a riot. I don’t see any evidence for either here. I’m not saying I would have done what he did, or that I found it nice, amusing, or even beneficial to the image of atheists in the U.S. But I do defend his right to express himself, even if I find his manner distasteful. I also defend the right of anyone, Muslim or not, who was offended by his costume to say whatever they would like about it, so I’m hoping you don’t take this as a “stuff your opinion” comment, but rather a respectful disagreement.

        • Sorry about not being able to respond directly to his comments. I’ll change the comments settings (I think it’s something about how many replies to a given comment can be made).

          • MJ says:

            Not a big deal! Just wanted to make sure it wasn’t confusing anyone. Honestly, I don’t even know if my blog nests comments beyond two or not.

            • Chris says:

              Hey MJ and Amanda, Unfortunately I am busy with work this week so I can’t continue too much. Just wanted to say I enjoyed this discussion with you two, and while I think we’ve identified where we agree and disagree I am glad we can do so respectfully.
              -Chris

    • Jimi says:

      and you are ignoring the fact that there was a zombie Jesus and a zombie Pope there as well. What the Muslim did was wrong, point blank period. Pierce was withing his rights of free speech and hell it was Halloween, lighten up

      • Chris says:

        I don’t think Halloween is a justification to insult lots of people, and I don’t see that insults were hurled at multiple types of people as making it any better.. Sure, like I’ve said, the Muslim did do something wrong. The surprising thing being overlooked here is that so did Pearce.

  3. xanthippa says:

    Pearce did nothing wrong.

    What if a person’s religious belief was considered to be a mockery of someone else’s religious belief? Which one should be abrogated? Who should decide?

    Because like it or not, the beliefs of every single religion are ‘insulting to’ and ‘a mockery of’ every other religion – especially if they evolved in close proximity. Ask a pious Hindu about Buddha…

    Humour is a valid tool to preserve ‘freedom from religion’ – a subset of ‘freedom of religion’. At a time when the UN is getting closer and closer to passing anti-blasphemy laws, it is not only good and moral, but necessary to mock religions.

    All of them.

    Daily!

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