Friday, February 24, 2012

Defamation? Free Speech?

WND is reporting on a court case in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania involving an atheist, Ernest Perce, who was dressed up as the Prophet Mohammed for Halloween and was assaulted by a Muslim man, Talaag Elbayomy. When the case went to court, the judge, himself a Muslim, threw the case out while admonishing the victim for insulting the defendant's religion. It raises an interesting legal argument, and I hope to get comments from all sides.

The audio that is contained in the link has aroused the ire of the judge, who is threatening to take some sort of action, thus, it may not remain up for long. (Viewer warning: Muslims may find the first video offensive since it actually shows the incident.)

I will be the first to state that professional atheists all too often can be quite offensive in putting down religions. Was this particular atheist acting in an offensive manner? In my view, yes. I never would have done that myself. Was it an exercise in freedom of expression under US laws? Yes, it was.

As I have witnessed all too often at UC Irvine, offensive speech directed at particular groups is protected under our Constitution. That is why radicals like Mohammed al-Asi can stand at UCI and state that "You can take the Jew out of the ghetto, but you can't take the ghetto out of the Jew", as he did several years ago. Nobody arrested al-Asi for saying that, and no Jewish person came out of the audience to knock him on his keester. Had they done so, guess who would have been arrested?

Similarly, when some "artist" displays a jar of urine with Christ on the Cross inside, religious Christians voiced their outrage, but nobody got arrested and nobody got assaulted.

I must confess that when I was a teenager, there was a code, so to speak, that governed our relationships among the boys. If you offended another kid, the result was usually a fistfight. Eventually, we grew up and learned that settling every dispute with a fistfight is not the way to handle problems in the adult world. It is called assault and it's illegal.

What is causing controversy is Judge Martin's lecture to the victim. He seems to be trying to apply some foreign element in US law here when he describes how such conduct could have resulted in the death of Mr. Perce in a Muslim country. Legally, it is irrelevant. That may be acceptable in other countries, but it is not acceptable here. I wonder how the judge would have ruled if Mr Elbayomy had killed Mr Perce. Indeed, there is some question in this story that Elbayomy may have actually thought that Perce was committing a criminal offense.

If Judge Martin believed that there was a lack of proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Elbayomy actually physically assaulted Perce, then he was right to throw out the case. If, however, he was basing his decision solely on Perce's admittedly offensive acts, then the judge is wrong. In fact, in his comments to Perce, he showed that he had his own bias in this matter and probably should have recused himself. Indeed, he stated that he was personally offended by what Perce did.

In the end, legally speaking, it should not matter how seriously Muslims or any other group take their religion. Physical assault is not legal. It doesn't matter if defaming a particular religion in another part of the world is a crime punishable by death. That is not the case in America. If some atheist or any other person started insulting Jesus Christ, I am not legally entitled to assault the guy. If I don't like what his sign says, I am not legally entitled to rip it away from him. That is our law. I wish Judge Martin had given a similar lecture to Mr Elbayomy.

Keep in mind that a case like this comes just as the 56-member nation Organization of the Islamic Conference is trying to push through their "Defamation of "religion" measure, by which the UN would promote such laws through member nations-including ours. Already in Europe, free speech is much more limited than here in the US. Indeed, Perce probably would have been prosecuted in Europe for what he did.

In my view, Perce acted like a jerk on Halloween. Perhaps, on a personal level, I can understand if Elbayomy had actually knocked him on his keester. But it's a legal question at play here involving our laws-not anyone else's.

What do you think? I encourage my Muslim readers to weigh in.


Squid said...

Yes, the atheist, Perce was behaving poorly by depicting Mohammad in a disrespectful way. This is not acceptable. But, Elbayomy has no right to physically attack him. This is assault and battery. The Judge dismissed this, as he would not allow evidence into the case that would demonstrate that assault and battery was present. More disturbing is the fact that sharia law is introduced into this decision by dismissing the case, based in religious grounds. Here sharia takes the upper hand over the U.S. Constitution. More case law like this and we will not have a Constitution. Not only should the Muslim Judge remove himself, based upon his religious beliefs, he should also be removed from the bar, as he cannot uphold the U.S. Constitution which he swore to honor.


Findalis said...

Judge Martin needs to be impeached. He has demonstrated that equal justice is not in his vocabulary.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

I don't know if "equal justice" is an issue, but Judge Martin has demonstrated that he either is not familiar with applicable law, or deliberately chose to ignore it, and do what he felt like doing.

It is no different than the judge in Kentucky some decades ago who ordered a defendant jailed for an offense that actually can be punished by no more than a small fine.

In the United States, the settled case law, expounding the plain language of our constitution, is that blasphemy is not actionable a a civil offense, much less a criminal offense.

(See Linnemeier v. Purdue) Basically the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the play "Corpus Christi" is "indeed blasphemous," and then expounded that the drama student producing it had every right to do so. The fact that Christians in the vicinity were offended did not mean that their "freedom of religion" had been infringed.

Same thing applies here. IF the judge had ruled based on the doctrine of "fighting words" there MIGHT be a little more basis to excuse the defendant. That's like, if I walk up to you on the street and shout "Your mother is a whore," and you punch me, you might get off that I provoked you. Not sure that would apply to a float in a parade, but it is a better argument.

Anonymous said...

"Similarly, when some 'artist' displays a jar of urine with Christ on the Cross inside, religious Christians voiced their outrage, but nobody got arrested and nobody got assaulted."

False. I've even gone out of my way in the past to give you links proving that this is false. Go read the Wikipedia on "piss Christ".

Gary Fouse said...

Poor Anonymous,

I said nobody got arrested and nobody got assaulted. You say false and quote wikipedia.

Here it is:

Who got arrested-Serrano? No. Those that exhibited the "art"? No.

All you can quote are a couple of incidents of vandalism against the "art" and reported death threats, which, if true, I do not condone.

Keep searching Anonymous, and let me know if you find something. I suggest you begin your search in Afghanistan. Forget wikipedia. Just turn on the latest news.

Damn, this job is easy.

Findalis said...

If you want to tell the Courthouse how you feel: The Court of Judicial Discipline of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
Judicial Conduct Board
601 Commonwealth Ave
Suite 3500
PO Box 62525
Harrisburg, PA 17106-2525

Sometimes a judge goes too far and needs to be thrown off the bench.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Someone over at The American Conservative who has done their homework found out that the judge is a Christian, a veteran of military service in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and what he actually said from the bench would have been appropriate to a summary court martial or administrative proceeding with a soldier stationed in an overwhelmingly Muslim country who didn't comprehend how the mission was compromised by blatant public insult to the people we depend, if we have any reason to be there at all.

In a civilian trial in the United States, it was misplaced.