In a move the Detroit ACLU called a “true miscarriage of justice,” Pastor Terry Jones was arrested and briefly jailed Friday following a heavily criticized court preceding which resulted in banning him from peacefully protesting on public property outside a Dearborn, Michigan mosque — before he ever had the chance.
“We were arrested for something we had not done,” Jones told the Detroit Free Press, before flying home to Gainesville. “I was totally shocked. I could not believe it. Even the police who put the handcuffs on us were shocked.”
A jury found Jones “guilty” of being likely to breach the peace by holding his protest against sharia law outside the nation’s largest mosque. Michigan’s Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy brought the legal action for a “prior restraint” of Jones’ speech based on an archaic law from the 1800s.
The prosecutor’s office argued it was trying to protect the public from possible riots and violence from counter-protesters to Jones’ rally.
But in a statement on his website, Jones argues the state was bending to the will of the mosque, letting religion trample his civil liberties. “We were told that we were able to present our message in front of one of the ‘Free Speech Zones’, but we were NOT allowed to present our message in the grassy area in front of the mosque. Thus making it very clear that this is not about our message, and not about us, but about the place. In other words, it is all about the location which is the Islamic Center. Sharia is much closer than we thought,” according to his statement.
A Texas pastor, who traveled to Michigan in support of Jones and to attend his protest, compared the integrity of Jones’ trial and verdict to one from biblical times.
“My opinion is, 2,000 years ago on Good Friday they crucified Christ. Today on April 22 on Good Friday they crucified the First Amendment in this courtroom,” said Pastor David Grisham.
See a video report where Grisham reacts below:
Here at the University of Central Florida in Orando, the record of respecting the First Amendment is mixed.
In February, UCF stood up to the public pressure to silence controversial speaker Imam Siraj Wahhaj and assigned its police to keep the peace and allow the religious figure to speak without requiring any sort of payment to cover the cost, as Michigan officials sought from Jones — an action legal experts say is illegal because it amounts to paying for free speech.
However, one month later, UCF officials breached the First Amendment rights of KnightNews.com’s Cliff Jett while trying to cover the Student Government Association election on a public patio of the Student Union media always has permission to access. A UCF employee told him he couldn’t gather news in that public square, ordering him to shut off his camera.
UCF committed the same breach of First Amendment rights a year earlier during SGA elections. However, this year UCF corrected the breach that same afternoon, when last year emails to UCF’s General Counsel’s office asking for the breach to be cured went ignored for days. In the 2009 case, Adam Kissel of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, intervened, along with a KnightNews.com attorney, and UCF agreed not to interfere with news coverage in that way again. UCF said the repeat breach in 2010 was an oversight.
As for Jones, he is back in Florida after posting a $1 “peace” bond in Dearborn. For now, he’s turned his main priority from protesting against sharia law to protesting against the erosion of Americans’ First Amendment rights. The Thomas More Law Center is reportedly going to represent him in a lawsuit against Wayne County officials for the alleged breach of his First Amendment rights.
Jones plans to be back in Dearborn by Friday, where this time he’ll plan a protest not at the mosque, but “on the steps of the City Hall in Dearborn, Michigan, on Friday, April 29, 2011 at 5pm,” according to the Facebook event page he created.
“We invite every American who still believes in the freedom and rights that our Constitution guarantees to come and stand with us,” the event page states.
KnightNews.com will keep you posted on this developing issue, and its potential impact on free speech across the country and here at UCF. Check back for updates.