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In a case that tests the limits of the First Amendment, controversial pastor Terry Jones, who runs the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, and fellow pastor Wayne Sapp, were arrested and jailed last Friday by Dearborn, Michigan police after refusing to post a one dollar “peace bond” ordered by District Judge Mark Somers. The judge’s order came after a six-person jury ruled that both men would “breach the peace” if they held a protest outside the Islamic Center of America. Jones vowed to file a lawsuit against prosecutors and promised to return for a rally in Dearborn next Friday at 5 p.m.
After three hours of deliberation, the jury sided with prosecutors who had sought a $25,000 bond from the preacher and his associate, claiming their protest outside the mosque would likely start a riot. Prosecutors also told both men they could be jailed for up to three years if they declined to pay the $1 peace bond in protest. “I strongly voice my disagreement with the ruling,” said Sapp, when asked by Somers if he had any comment. “The peace bond is to prohibit free speech.” Both men subsequently paid the bond and were released.
But Sapp has a point. The “peace bond” is the result of a law enacted in 1927 which “may require a person to give security to keep the peace.” Yet this particular application of it appears to be somewhat novel, as the law has been used primarily in domestic violence cases to protect spouses from violent partners. Charlie Langton, lawyer and WJBK Fox 2 legal analyst, was taken aback by the ruling. “Nobody expected this,” he said. “It is prior restraint, but the judge followed the letter of the law. It’s purely legal because it’s never been challenged. That is not right. It’s an old law that I don’t think applies to this case. I think they’ll have to appeal it.”
Yet this was not the most controversial part of Judge Somers’ ruling. In a move that reportedly roiled the courtroom, he also ordered both men to stay away from the Dearborn mosque property — and the area surrounding it — for three years. In a bizarre addendum, Somers said the order would remain in effect, unless mosque leaders asked him to rescind it in the future.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had unsuccessfully petitioned the state of Michigan to throw the case out, contending that Dearborn officials had violated Jones’s free speech protections, even as ACLU spokeswoman Rana Elmir was upset that the trial had given unwarranted publicity to a “divisive and fringe figure” by banning his demonstration. “We vehemently disagree with Mr. Jones and his cohorts. However, this is a complete abuse of the court process and all those involved should be ashamed,” she said. “I believe that Rev. Jones came to Dearborn for his 15 minutes of fame and the judge and prosecutors have now effectively given him hours of that…In a free society no one should be thrown in jail for speech, even as distasteful and offensive as Mr. Jones is,” she added.
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy disagreed: “These proceedings were solely about public safety,” she said in a statement.
“This was never about prohibiting free speech or fearing rioting, but about a situation that could potentially place the public in danger in Dearborn.”
The case arose from a request by Terry Jones for a permit to demonstrate on public property across the street from the Islamic Center on Good Friday. Dearborn police denied the request claiming that that particular area, where four churches and the mosque are located, would be crowded with thousands of worshippers on that day, and that protecting Jones and his followers from violence would cost $46,000. Dearborn Mayor John “Jack” O’Reilly Jr. contended that Jones’s demonstration would create traffic problems, and in an open letter to Jones published last Wednesday, ridiculed Jones’s contention that Sharia Law had any influence in Dearborn, and urged the preacher to stage his protest in one of the city’s “free speech zones.”
Free speech zones are the result of a 1989 Dearborn ordinance requiring permits for demonstrations to be secured 30 days in advance. In 2003, the ACLU sued the city with regard to that limitation, when a protest against Israel was held in response to their soldiers entering the Palestinian refugee camp in Jenin. In 2005, the federal Court of Appeals sided with the ACLU, and in 2008 the law was changed leading to the free speech zones. Former Macomb County Prosecutor Carl Marlinga contends that the law may give the city some leeway, but that it “cannot pigeonhole someone into a free speech zone if they have a valid reason for wanting to conduct speech in a different public place.” The Mayor stood by the law. “Nothing is static and the Constitution is not static either–it’s evolved,” he said.
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