In a truly bizarre development, a jury will decide — for the time being, at least — whether anti-Muslim Florida Pastor Terry Jones will be allowed to hold a protest outside the Islamic Center of America mosque in Dearborn on Friday evening.
State Judge Mark Somers gave Jones the option of paying a $100,000 “peace bond” or face a jury to decide whether he can hold the protest without paying the bond. Jones refused to pay the bond and will go before a seven-member jury beginning at 8 am on Friday. Jones says he intends to hold the protest no matter what the court decides.
All of this is blatantly unconstitutional. The boundaries of the First Amendment are not determined by juries. And the practice of requiring those who wish to protest to put up bonds before holding controversial protests was declared unconstitutional decades ago by federal courts.
This principle goes back to the civil rights era, when cities run by racist leaders who wanted to prevent legitimate civil rights marches would try to charge those who organized those protests for the extra police protection needed to keep them safe from the KKK and others who might react violently to them.
That it now involves someone who preaches against civil rights for Muslims is not a legally relevant difference; the government must protect the right to protest and protect those who engage in protest from violent reaction no matter how heinous the message of the protest may be.
At least some of the local residents, including many Muslims, recognize that principle. In addition to CAIR-Michigan leader Dawud Walid, the ACLU of Michigan and some local Muslim leaders have also spoken out in defense of Jones’ right to protest.
Earlier, the ACLU of Michigan and others slammed local authorities for trying to deny Jones the right to protest outside the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn.
The ACLU said that authorities are denying Jones’ Constitutional rights.
The government should “not impinge on a person’s right to protest, even when their speech is as distasteful and offensive as Rev. Jones’ is,” said Rana Elmir, communications director for the Michigan ACLU. “We should combat hate speech with more speech. I disagree vehemently with Rev. Jones’ message, but I believe wholeheartedly in his right to express himself.” …
But Elmir said:
“We can’t forget both religious freedom and the right to protest. The city of Dearborn should honor both of those rights equally.”
Elmir said that Dearborn has had issues in previous cases of denying a person’s right to protest.
She added that the ACLU is concerned about anti-Muslim hate speech and discrimination, but said that the solution is not censorship.
“The government can not silence demonstrations in anticipation that their message will not be welcomed.”
Majed Moughni, a Dearborn attorney, agrees that Jones has the right to protest. Moughni is not a fan of Jones, having burned him in effigy last year outside his Dearborn home because he had threatened to burn the Quran. Jones later oversaw the burning of a Quran last month.
But Moughni says it’s wrong for the city and county to try to hinder Jones’ rights. Moughni added that this is turning Jones into a hero.
“Instead of him being the bad guy, now he’s the hero,” Moughni said. “They’ve turned him into a hero of the First Amendment.”
“The prosecutors should withdraw their demands and let him speak as he wishes, which is his right under the Constitution.”
Rana Elmir called me at home last night and I told her how glad I was that the ACLU of Michigan had stepped up to the plate on this one. And she said the same thing I said, which is that I hate to have to defend this bigoted asshole’s rights. But I do. Because if Terry Jones does not have freedom of speech and the right to protest, my rights are at risk too.
And another prominent Muslim group also spoke out on Jones’ behalf:
Also today, Arab Community Center for Economic & Social Services Director Hassan Jaber issued a statement backing Jones’ right to protest — and residents’ right to criticize him.
“At ACCESS, we work to empower people to become fully engaged members of their community,” Jaber said.
“We cannot teach the U.S. Constitution in our citizenship classes while opposing First Amendment rights. So we support Mr. Jones’ right to speak, but we do so with our own postscript: That his message of bigotry and hate does not resonate here.”
No matter what the jury decides tomorrow, the state court’s ruling is baffling and almost certain to be struck down by a higher court if challenged.