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Free speech under fire

The recent exchange between an atheist and a judge in a small courtroom in rural Pennsylvania could have come out of a Dickens novel. Magisterial District Judge Mark Martin was hearing a case in which an irate Muslim stood accused of attacking an atheist, Ernest Perce, because he was wearing a "Zombie Mohammed" costume on Halloween. Although the judge had "no doubt that the incident occurred," he dismissed the charge of criminal harassment against the Muslim and proceeded to browbeat Perce. Martin explained that such a costume would have led to Perce's execution in many countries under sharia, or Islamic law, and added that Perce's conduct fell "way outside your bounds of 1st Amendment rights."

The case has caused a national outcry, with many claiming that Martin was applying sharia law over the Constitution — a baseless and unfair claim. But while the ruling certainly doesn't suggest that an American caliphate has gained a foothold in American courts, it was nevertheless part of a disturbing trend. The conflict in Cumberland County between free speech and religious rights is being played out in courts around the world, and free speech is losing.

Perce was marching in a parade with a fellow atheist dressed as a "Zombie Pope" when he encountered Talaag Elbayomy, who was outraged by the insult to the prophet. The confrontation was captured on Perce's cellphone. Nevertheless, Martin dismissed the charge against Elbayomy. Then he turned to Perce, accusing him of acting like a "doofus." Martin said: "It's unfortunate that some people use the 1st Amendment to deliberately provoke others. I don't think that's what our forefathers intended."

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TAGGED: ISLAM, LAW, POLITICS


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