Zombie Muhammad walks into a bar. A customer overhears Muhammad’s conversation with the Zombie Pope and proceeds to grab Muhammad’s beard. Muhammad files suit, and several months later, the presiding judge dismisses all criminal charges against the defendant due to insufficient evidence.
The judge’s closing statements ridicule Muhammad for being a “doofus.” He never should have conveyed anything that might possibly offend a third party. Muhammad is blamed despite being the victim of the attack, and threatened with contempt of court.
It sounds like a terrible joke, mostly because it is a terrible joke.
In Mechanicsburg, Pa., about 200 miles south of Binghamton, two men representing the Pennsylvania chapter of American Atheists dressed up as the Zombie Muhammad and Zombie Pope for their town’s Halloween parade. During their march, a Muslim observer stepped onto the street and confronted the Zombie Muhammad for insulting his religion.
Talaag Elbayomy was then accused of harassment and arrested in front of his wife and children. Before his arrest, Elbayomy thought it was a crime to disrespect the prophet Muhammad. District Judge Mark Martin spared no ridicule in explaining why Ernie Perce’s provocation did not deserve equal protection under the First Amendment. Here are several statements from the official courtroom transcript:
“I’m a Muslim. I find it [the mask] offensive.”
“I have a copy of the Quran here, and I would challenge you, Sir, to show me where it says in the Quran that Muhammad arose and walked among the dead … So before you start mocking somebody else’s religion, you might want to find out a little more about it.”
“This is why we hear [our country] referred to as ‘ugly Americans,’ because we’re so concerned about our own rights, we don’t care about other people’s rights. As long as we get our say, but we don’t care about the other people’s say.”
But Elbayomy didn’t say anything. He simply reacted with violence. Nothing Perce wore restricted Elbayomy’s rights, and had Elbayomy chosen to use his words instead of his hands, it may have led the judge’s theoretical dialogue.
Judge Martin could have recused himself from the bench, but felt compelled to flaunt his overt emotional bias. During the course of the trial, he proposed multiple times that Islam is a way of life, and that Elbayomy was not only obligated but justified to act in such a manner. He went on to describe personal experiences and respect he held for Sharia Law.
He also pointed out that in many Arabic societies, Perce would have been executed for his blasphemous depiction, as if these models of oppression deserved some kind of cultural defense. Luckily, Perce was already aware of his geographic location, citizenship and protection against cruel and unusual punishment before attending the parade.
Law professor Jonathan Turley of George Washington University was able to summarize the core issue in one sentence: “If culture could trump free speech, the country would become the amalgamation of all extrinsic cultures — protecting no one by protecting everyone’s impulses.”
And yet Judge Martin holds an astoundingly impulsive interpretation of the Establishment Clause.
“Our forefathers intended to use the First Amendment so we can speak with our mind, not to piss off other people and cultures — which is what you [Perce] did.”
What have we learned? If we disagree, I’m entitled to assault you.
Is symbolic speech no longer protected political speech? What happened to the precedent set in the landmark case National Socialist Party v. Skokie? Regardless of how the display was interpreted, no fighting words were exchanged (a standard that is rarely upheld to begin with). In fact, hardly any words were spoken at all. While I agree the mask was not particularly tasteful, it’s by no means an exception to peaceful protest.
In any other context, this case would have been subject to the rule of law. And so Judge Martin carried on the timeless wisdom of Voltaire. I may not agree with what you have to say, so I will do everything in my power to abridge your right to say it. Well done, Sir.