I thought that what Pastor Terry Jones did in Florida recently (burn a Quran) was within his rights, but a tactically stupid move. On matters of religion and culture, you don’t needlessly provoke war-torn, illiterate, and impoverished people thousands of miles away. But the Muslims living in Dearborn, Michigan are not war-torn, illiterate, or impoverished. They are middle class people living in a peaceful American city and this is a test for them. They can stand up for the First Amendment right of every American citizen to free speech and assembly, or they can seek to establish laws that would fundamentally change our country.
How this news story evolves will be informative.
Here’s the issue: Pastor Terry Jones has decided that he wants to hold a sign, or otherwise protest, on a sidewalk near an Islamic Center in Dearborn. Perhaps he intends to pass out Christian tracts (or otherwise communicate with passersby his views concerning Muhammad, Islamic jihad, and sharia).
And, as of right now, the city is not letting him do it. This was in the Detroit Free Press yesterday:
Dearborn Mayor John O’Reilly Jr. said late Friday that the city respects the constitution but said the right to free speech can’t interfere with public safety and the rights of others. He said the city had serious concerns about public safety which is why they did not want him to protest at the mosque.
This seems to me like a slam dunk free speech case (and I wonder where the ACLU is on this). Here’s some more from the Detroit Free Press:
County prosecutors had filed a complaint to make Jones stay away from the mosque for a planned rally because they said it would breach the peace. A jury sided Friday with prosecutors and Jones was led to jail.
“I was shocked,” Jones said. “I was horrified.”
He’s concerned about a system where “you arrest people who have committed absolutely no crimes.”
I support Terry Jones’s right to free speech on public property (such as a sidewalk) near any Islamic Center of his choosing (in Dearborn or otherwise) and I hope that you do as well (whatever your religious or irreligious persuasion).
Update: If you go to the Detroit Free Press website here and watch the posted video, you find a Muslim American law student, Amir Makled, speaking in very Jeffersonian terms, defending Terry Jones’s right to free speech. In my view, Amir Makled is the face of Islam’s future. He is showing the way for his fellow Muslims to both believe in their religion and tolerate those who don’t. This is something that American Muslims are uniquely positioned to accomplish: the evolution of Islamic religious tolerance consistent with the Enlightenment. I wish him well and hope he enters politics someday.