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Published: Friday, 4/22/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Islam protest trial sparks debate on free speech

BLADE NEWS SERVICES
Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center
ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge

DEARBORN, Mich. -- A jury will decide Friday whether Florida pastor Terry Jones must post a so-called "peace" bond ahead of a demonstration outside a mosque in Dearborn.

District Judge Mark Somers ruled Thursday that evidence shows Mr. Jones and an associate plan to protest outside the Islamic Center of America Friday even though the city has denied them a permit to do so.

Judge Somers said the city offered four alternative sites, but Mr. Jones rejected those locations. Mr. Jones also refused to voluntarily post the bond, which could be used to pay for police at the protest.

The judge seated a jury of six plus one alternate to consider ordering Mr. Jones to do so.

The trial is scheduled to begin this morning.

A burning of the Qur'an last month at Mr. Jones' church in Gainesville, Fla., intensified anti-Western sentiment in Afghanistan.

Mr. Jones told the court he was concerned the delay might prevent him from his attempt to rally at 5 p.m. Friday outside a mosque.

He called the trial another way to deprive him of his rights.

After the hearing concluded, Mr. Jones said he's concerned about "the radical element in Islam." As he spoke, a group of Muslims began yelling at him.

Leyla Abdul-Ghani yelled, "Shame on you. We are decent, hard-working people."

Samira Hider, who came with her family to protest Mr. Jones, shouted, "Have you read the Qur'an?"

Her son, Mohamed, 10, held up a poster that read, "Don't burn the Qur'an. Terry Jones has to go."

Earlier Thursday, Mr. Jones entered the courtroom with a crowd of media following.

He appeared in court along with the Rev. Wayne Sapp, who burned a Qur'an last month in Florida under Mr. Jones' supervision, setting off violent protests in the Muslim world.

The American Civil Liberties Union and others have slammed local authorities for trying to deny Mr. Jones the right to protest outside the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn. The ACLU said authorities are denying Mr. Jones' constitutional rights.

The government should "not impinge on a person's right to protest, even when their speech is as distasteful and offensive as Rev. Jones' is," said Rana Elmir, communications director for the Michigan ACLU. "We should combat hate speech with more speech."

Dearborn Police Chief Ron Haddad said there are logistical and security problems to having Mr. Jones protest outside the Islamic Center of America, noting that he has received numerous death threats and has a $1.2 million bounty on his head from a Pakistan-based terrorist group.

Moreover, the mosque is surrounded by several churches that have Good Friday services, making traffic an issue, he argued.

But Ms. Elmir said: "We can't forget both religious freedom and the right to protest. The city of Dearborn should honor both of those rights equally."

Ms. Elmir said Dearborn has had issues in previous cases of denying a person's right to protest.

She added that the ACLU is concerned about anti-Muslim hate speech and discrimination, but said the solution is not censorship.

"The government cannot silence demonstrations in anticipation that their message will not be welcomed."

Majed Moughni, a Dearborn attorney, agrees that Mr. Jones has the right to protest.

Mr. Moughni is not a fan of Mr. Jones, having burned him in effigy last year outside his Dearborn home because he had threatened to burn the Qur'an. Mr. Jones later oversaw the burning of a Qur'an last month.

But Mr. Moughni said it's wrong for the city and county to try to hinder Mr. Jones' rights.

Mr. Moughni added that the situation is turning Mr. Jones into a hero.

"Instead of him being the bad guy, now he's the hero," Moughni said. "They've turned him into a hero of the First Amendment."

"The prosecutors should withdraw their demands and let him speak as he wishes, which is his right under the Constitution."

Michael Steinberg, legal director with the ACLU Michigan, said the government's actions in this case are unconstitutional.

"In a free society, the government can't place a price on a person's ability to speak," Mr. Steinberg said.



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