This is not the first time protests against Islam have been thwarted by Dearborn police. In June 2010, four Christian missionaries were arrested on public property outside an Arabic festival, and charged with disorderly conduct for attempting to pass out pamphlets promoting Christianity. Mayor O’Reilly wrote a letter defending the arrests. The following September, a jury acquitted the quartet.
There is speculation that Terry Jones was motivated by that incident, and that is why he had sought to hold his protest specifically outside the mosque. Throughout the trial, Jones said as much, that his intention was to protest both jihad and Sharia law, and that he had no plans to repeat his previously controversial action of burning a Koran, nor would he make any attempt to defile images of the prophet Muhammad. “We are not criminals,” said Jones, acting as his own lawyer. “All we want to do is exercise our First Amendment rights.”
During closing arguments, assistant prosecutor Robert Moran claimed that “[J]ust because we have the first amendment doesn’t mean you can say anything or do anything at any time,” calling the planned protest a “recipe for disaster.” Jones countered that free speech zones were unconstitutional and that protesting at the court house (the free speech zone he was offered) was not proper, because he and Sapp were not protesting American laws, but Sharia, which made the mosque the “right venue” for his demonstration. He added denying him a permit based on what might happen is nothing more than a surrender to “intimidation and fear.”
In a separate closing argument, co-defendant Wayne Sapp made a better point. He explained that while the prosecution was arguing that their actions were intended to breach the peace, “all of the evidence prosecutors have presented is about the actions of others.” Mr. Sapp’s argument was unintentionally buttressed by Dearborn Police Chief Ronald Haddad, who testified that, while he had received at least four serious threats made against Jones, and that counter-protests might bring as many as 10,000 people into the area, his impression of Jones after they met was that he was “cordial and did not appear to be violent in nature.”
It is hard to see this case as anything but a shambles, best explained by Hot Air’s Allahpundit:
[Jones] wanted to protest outside the Islamic center in Dearborn but the city refused him a permit, fearful that some local Muslim might go nuts as a result. So they put him on trial, with the jury asked to determine what they thought his intent would be in holding the protest. If they thought his aim was peaceful, he’d be found not guilty; if they thought he meant to incite violence, then guilty as charged. Verdict: Guilty. Which means not only was this guy convicted of a speech crime he hadn’t yet committed (a.k.a. prior restraint), but it was only a crime in the first place because of the expected reaction from his opponents.
There is no question that Terry Jones is a rabble-rouser, and that his previous stunt of burning a Koran demonstrates a level of bigotry and disrespect that should trouble reasonable people. Yet there is something even more troubling about Muslims who used the previous incident as justification for murder and mayhem half a world away in Afghanistan, where 12 U.N. workers were killed in retaliation. In this particular case, it is particularly telling that the judge, who ordered payment of peace bond and issued a three-year ban; the prosecutors, who brought the case to trial; and the jurors, who convicted the two defendants, are apparently blind to their own prejudices: all three entities assumed that any demonstration by Jones, et al., no matter how peaceful, would result in violence–by Muslims. It was a prejudice so compelling that Jones and Sapp were convicted before the fact.
In context, it is worth remembering that just under two months ago, in a lopsided 8-1 decision, the Supreme Court upheld the right of Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church protesters to picket the funerals of American soldiers. And last Thursday, a New Jersey transit worker who burned pages of the Koran on 9/11 was re-hired, given back pay and awarded $25,000 for pain and suffering, after the state settled a lawsuit filed by the ACLU.
Jones says he’s headed back to Dearborn next week and plans to hold his protest. Whether the judge, the prosecutors and the police will reconsider their ill-advised decisions is anyone’s guess. No one has to like the man or his intentions, but as Jones himself reminded the court during his trial, the First Amendment “is only valid if it allows us to say what other people do not like.”
Arnold Ahlert is a contributing columnist to the conservative website JewishWorldReview.com.