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May 18 2013

Judge Endorses Heckler’s Veto

The Dearborn Arab International Festival has been the site of many clashes between the police and Christian evangelists who go there to preach to the mostly Muslim crowd. This has resulted in several arrests that ended in acquittals and lawsuits that vindicated the protesters and forced the city to apologize. But in one case from last year, a federal judge has endorsed the heckler’s veto and dismissed a lawsuit by a Christian group that was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct after Muslims at the festival through bottles and other things at them. The ruling describes what happened:

At the 2012 Festival, “Plaintiffs peacefully engaged in their expressive activity along the public sidewalks and other public areas where pedestrian traffic was permitted.” Members of the Bible Believers donned t-shirts or carried banners with messages such as “Only Jesus Christ Can Save You From Sin and Hell,” “Fear God and Give Him Glory,” “Trust Jesus, Repent and Believe in Jesus,” “Turn or Burn,” “Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. All Others Are Thieves and Robbers,” “Islam Is A Religion of Blood and Murder,” and “Muhammad is a . . . liar, false prophet, murderer, child molesting pervert.” One member of the Bible Believers carried a pig’s head on a stick. Another brought a megaphone so as to amplify the group’s street preaching. In order to capture the events, Fisher carried a small hand-held video camera.

Video footage from the event shows members of the Bible Believers entering the Festival near the carnival-style rides at approximately 5:50PM. The group stops at what appears to be the edge of the Festival and Israel begins preaching on a megaphone. Israel proclaims: “Your prophet is nothing but an unclean swine, your prophet married a seven-year-old girl, your prophet is a pedophile, and your prophet teaches you not to believe in Jesus as the Christ.” At this point, a small crowd of what appears to be mostly children begins forming around the Bible Believers and members from the crowd can be heard objecting to Israel’s speech. Israel, undaunted by the crowd, announces to the swelling crowd that “your religion will send you to hell.” According to Israel, this is because the crowd believes in “a prophet that is a pervert” who “molested a child.” At this point, the crowd becomes increasingly upset, admonishing Israel for the views he is expressing. Israel continues to denounce the Islamic faith and the Prophet Muhammad.

Eventually, members of the crowd begin hurling objects at the Bible Believers. No member of the Bible Believers responded with violence. The preacher does, however, indicate that members of the Islamic faith have only violence and murder in their heart. The street preaching continues, as does the bottle-hurling, and someone in the crowd can be seen encouraging the group of mostly children to disperse.

The first time a law enforcement official is captured on film is when a member of the Sheriff’s Office walks up to the Bible Believers. The official, speaking directly to Israel, explains that Dearborn has an ordinance prohibiting the use of megaphones and that if the group continues to use it, a citation will be issued. Israel explains that the group used the megaphone the previous year but the official repeats his request.

Eventually, the Bible Believers move from the Festival’s perimeter and push further along Warren Avenue. Despite the movement, the aggression directed towards the Bible Believers continues. During the video, law enforcement officials are seen trying to quell the crowd and stem the violent conduct. These efforts, however, were not entirely successful as even with several officers standing in front of the Bible Believers and after the mounted units made several passes by the Bible Believers, debris was thrown at the Bible Believers. Officials are also seen yanking children from the crowd if seen throwing items.

Plaintiffs engaged in their expressive activities for approximately one-and-a-half hours. For most of that time, Festival attendees are seen arguing with and throwing objects at the Bible Believers. Eventually, Richardson pulled Israel aside to ask that the group leave. He stated that there was a real risk that somebody – either a member of the
Bible Believers, a Festival attendee, or someone with the Sheriff’s Office – would be injured if the Bible Believers did not cease their activity. Israel indicated that he had a right to be there and asked Richardson whether he would be arrested should he choose to stay. Richardson indicated that he could not be sure whether there would be an arrest but did indicate that if the Bible Believers did not leave, disorderly conduct citations would be forthcoming. Upon hearing this, Plaintiffs departed the Festival.

Now, if there is an ordinance against the use of megaphones and it is enforced across the board, then that’s fine. They can make them stop using a megaphone. But as even the judge’s ruling indicates, all of the violence came from the Muslim crowd, not from the group that was threatened with arrest for that infamous catchall “disorderly conduct.” This is an absolutely clear cut case of the police violating the First Amendment rights of those protesters and failing to do their job. But the judge nonetheless dismisses the case, even after agreeing that the speech here is clearly protected under the First Amendment:

The first step is to determine whether Plaintiffs’ activities constitute protected expressive conduct. Conveying religious messages on signs, banners, and t-shirts and orally disseminating religious beliefs fall under the purview of the First Amendment. The First Amendment also generally protects controversial speech.

The judge also agrees that this is a “traditional public forum,” which is accorded the highest protection for free speech under Supreme Court precedent. And the judge even says up front that the police cannot censor speech due to the violent reactions of others:

The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that police may not interfere with orderly, nonviolent expressive activities merely because they disagree with the content of the speech or because they fear possible disorder.

And that the law does not permit the police to violate free speech rights due to the heckler’s veto:

Similarly, it is axiomatic that the First Amendment “knows no heckler’s veto.” …“speech cannot be…punished or banned[] simply because it might offend a hostile mob”

Despite all that, he then clearly and obviously contradicts this by endorsing the heckler’s veto as a means of preventing others from exercising their rights:

Far from being an unlimited, unqualified right, the societal value of speech must, on occasion, be subordinated to other values and other considerations…

An examination of the video evidence reveals a mounting threat to public safety. Plaintiffs “freely engaged” in
“expressive activity” for well over an hour even though many Festival attendees reacted negatively to Plaintiffs’ message soon after Plaintiffs’ arrival. The negative reactions are evidenced by the throngs of mostly children
surrounding the Bible Believers who hurled epithets at the Bible Believers in addition to water bottles and other debris. The safety threat is evidenced by the fact that Israel is captured on video with a small amount of blood
trickling down his forehead…

The Court finds that the actual demonstration of violence here provided the requisite justification for Defendants’ intervention, even if the officials acted as they did because of the effect the speech had on the crowd. As in Feiner, where the Supreme Court approved of a breach of peace conviction for the reaction the speaker’s speech engendered, Defendants were not “powerless to prevent a breach of the peace” in light of the “imminence of greater disorder” that Plaintiffs’ conduct created.

In short, the judge said that the actions of the police were reasonable because of the violent reaction from the crowd that was angered by their message. You don’t need to be an ACLU attorney to recognize the danger here. If the way to shut someone up who is saying something that angers you is to react violently, you’re basically giving them the blueprint to censor others by being violent in response. You are inviting violence.

Think I’m wrong? Then imagine that the protesters were not Christians but atheists. Or that they were gay rights activists protesting at a Christian festival. Or a civil rights march threatened by racist protesters. In every case, the principle is exactly the same — the job of the government is to protect the right to free speech, not to arrest them because other people are reacting violently.

They filed an immediate appeal of this ruling. I sure hope they win.

43 comments

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  1. 1
    jamessweet

    Everyone involved in this story is being really awful. I just can’t read it.

  2. 2
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    They (The Christian protesters – ed) filed an immediate appeal of this ruling. I sure hope they win.

    Me too.

    If the way to shut someone up who is saying something that angers you is to react violently, you’re basically giving them the blueprint to censor others by being violent in response. You are inviting violence.

    ^ This . So much this.

    Note to Muslims – want to prove your religion is peaceful?

    Then stop using violence and the threat of violence and behaving as badly as you are notorious for.

    Note to the rest of us – stop letting them get away with it.

    Islamists threaten death and arson and rioting over cartoons or a book / film or a teddy bear named Mohammad?

    Respond by publish the cartoons again on the front page of every paper, put murals of ‘em up next to mosques. Print more copies of Rushdies books and have political leaders quote from it often and loudly. Screen the film every night till the rioting stops and mass produce a line of comical teddies named Mohammad just to show them that no that sort of shit does NOT work on us. And arrest and properly punish every act of violence and intimidation from the Islamists side – and, oh yeah, so the same to every case of MRA and religious zealot violence too.

  3. 3
    Bronze Dog

    It’s a simple idea: If you’re someone who’s worried about violence, blame and condemn the people who react violently. They aren’t mindless animals reacting solely by instinct. They aren’t machines that automatically trigger on stimulus. They’re human beings who have chosen to act in an uncivilized manner. Religious feelings aren’t an excuse for violence. Getting your feelings hurt is no reason to physically harm or threaten someone. We were all supposed to have learned that as children.

  4. 4
    kevinkirkpatrick

    I completely support the right of the Christians to stage the protest as they did. I too hope they win this on appeal.

    I do have a question though – is there any limit on the manner in which a group like Bible Believers is allowed to express itself at an event like this? It seems that any given protest could reach a scale whereby the rights of other citizens to not be held as a captive audience is infringed upon.

    In other words, I’d be A-OK with the Bible Believers or Westboro having a presence at, say, an atheist or humanist festival. However, I would not be okay with them having such a saturating presence that my children were unable to enjoy the booths, candy, rides, etc. without their ears ringing of “You are going to burn in Hell!”; nor would I be okay with “protestors” following my family around with cat-calls and such. Such tactics could be used by a religious majority to prevent public gatherings of minority groups.

    Is there a legal line drawn between protestors having their message heard (which I’m fine with), and outright harassment (which I am not okay with)?
    –> NOTE: I am not saying this is at all what was happening with the Dearborn protest, nor that I feel they were crossing any boundaries… that protest merely got me thinking about whether some boundaries should exist.

  5. 5
    Tabby Lavalamp

    I have to admit I’m torn. It’s one thing to express your opinion, it’s another to act in a way that seems designed to provoke a reaction and that’s what it sounds like the Christians were doing.

  6. 6
    konrad_arflane

    Print more copies of Rushdies books and have political leaders quote from it often and loudly.

    Heh. I would pay cash money to a politician who worked Rushdie quotes like this into a speech:

    ‘Proper London, bhai! Here we come! Those bastards down there won’t know what hit them. Meteor or lightning or vengeance of God. Out of thin air, baby. Dharrraaammm! Wham, na? Whan an entrance, yaar. I swear: splat.’

    The Satanic Verses is just not an easily quotable book, at least the greater parts of it.

  7. 7
    Michael Heath

    Tabby Lavalamp writes:

    It’s one thing to express your opinion, it’s another to act in a way that seems designed to provoke a reaction and that’s what it sounds like the Christians were doing.

    A primary motivation of speech is to provoke a reaction. The fact that speech frequently does so is exactly why we should exercise our speech rights and demand its protection.

    Credible advocates of speech don’t demand government protection of speech merely because it’s in the Bill of Rights, but instead because speech is an effective mechanism that causes change. We protect the right because speech works.

  8. 8
    Draken

    The problem is of course that some groups in the population are terrifyingly easy to provoke, and it can take a large amount of police to protect the provoker. I experienced that in 2002, when Danish Evangelical-provocateur Moses Hansen came to Copenhagen Nørrebro to tell the muslims there they’d go to hell. Nørrebro has a lot of muslims with an average age seemingly under 30.

    I’ve never seen so much police protect a single man (and a few followers) and was wondering if we’re entitled to send him the bill for his free speech.

  9. 9
    Patrick Gray

    Sorry but in this case the actions of the protesters clearly crossed the line into harassment and denied other people the enjoyment of their right to assemble and, quite simply, enjoy their festival.

    Freedom of speech does have its limits when said speech infringes on the reasonable right of people to engage in otherwise peaceful activities. It’s one thing to protest an event from outside, quite another thing to do so from inside the event where those attending will not be able to escape or ignore speech that is self-evidently designed to insult and inflame.

    “Think I’m wrong? Then imagine that the protesters were not Christians but atheists. Or that they were gay rights activists protesting at a Christian festival. Or a civil rights march threatened by racist protesters. In every case, the principle is exactly the same — the job of the government is to protect the right to free speech, not to arrest them because other people are reacting violently.”

    I don’t really want to lump in atheists, homosexuals, or civil rights activists in with a bunch of fascistic Christian loons. Rational people should hold ourselves to higher standards precisely because we tend to think of protest in a more rational manner When the former groups protest it is usually because their rights are being threatened in some way, not because they simply want to impose their own sense of deluded superiority on others. The job of the government is not simply to protect free speech but to also protect the rights of those who do not wish to have their events blighted and ruined by sandcastle-kicking loons.

    Now you might be perfectly happy if one of these wingnuts began disrupting an event you were hosting because it would give you the chance to debate them (or at the very least make fun of them) but that is not what the people who were attending this festival (which by the way has been cancelled now thanks to these Christian bigots) desire. They have the right to enjoy their festival and culture without being harassed. To allow these kinds of protests will institute another kind of Heckler’s veto where protestors will be able to effectively shut down events by acting in the most outrageous manner possible. Any reasonable person, especially in the company of their children, is going to react aggressively when some nutter is screaming at them about pedophilia and hellfire.

    The 1st Amendment is important yes but it has always been interpreted through the lens of reasonableness. A reasonable person would support the right of these people to protest outside this festival where those attending would be able to ignore them. A reasonable person would also take into account what exactly was being protested. A political meeting – no problem, but a family festival for a group already marginalized and defamed – give me a break.

  10. 10
    Draken

    Oh and note how, in the Dearborn case, it was the children who performed the trespass. I somehow suspect they didn’t act by themselves.

  11. 11
    trucreep

    I don’t think this is as clear cut as many have made it out to be.

    I don’t see a point in where the police are forcing them to stop or where they’re threatening arrest. They encouraged them to leave because of the escalating situation.

    You have to remember, this is like a carnival or a fair, its a big festival for families and where you have children all over the place. I don’t know what drives people to do this.

    I get the heckler’s veto and why that is not sound reasoning, but I don’t think that applies here. And I feel mmmm I don’t know sort of that there’s this fake outrage or almost as if you’re really trying to show that “Hey look, I disagree with these guys but I’m fighting for their rights! I’m objective!” Gotta be wary of trying to look objective for its own sake.

  12. 12
    frankb

    I agree with Kevin #4. There are limits to free speech and one of the criteria is harassment. I believe that the megaphone crossed the line by forcing muslims to hear him at a distance. The request to ditch the megaphone was reasonable. The size of the crowd that is acting in concert could also contribute to a ruling of harassment. So I feel that such situations are complex in terms of different people’s rights.

  13. 13
    Patrick Gray

    Here’s a quote from the leader of these whackjobs

    “Yes, that was last year and that is why this year I went there with a pig head. To the Muslims a pig or the blood from a pig is like a crucifix to a vampire. I knew the sheriff was not going to assist us because they had not responded to our letters from our attorneys, so I figured we would be on our own, and since the sheriffs weren’t going to be around us, I brought the next best thing and that’s a pig head on a stick.”

    Clearly a reasonable protest going on here.

    If this kind of bigoted and boorish behavior is protected by the 1st Amendment then the lunatics have well and truly taken over the asylum.

    Individuals and groups have the right to enjoy themselves and each other and their cultures without being harassed for it in ways that are simply designed to blight their experiences. Zeal for the 1st Amendment has, in this case, clouded Ed’s judgement.

  14. 14
    tommykey

    Sorry, but the Christian group were being assholes here. It’s one thing to hand out flyers or even hold signs, but can’t they allow people to enjoy their festival without being subjected to such blatant provocation?

  15. 15
    Robert B.

    @ Patrick Gray:

    They weren’t threatened by police because of the particular things they were doing (aside from the megaphone, which I agree is a reasonable ordinance if it’s enforced evenly). They were threatened by police because they had bottles thrown at them. The legal system runs on precedent and I don’t want a message sent to anyone that you can shut up someone you don’t like by throwing bottles at them. The government absolutely cannot be in the business of deciding which protesters have a good reason to be protesting and which do not – if that starts happening, we lose our rights every time our ideological opponents take office.

    The Christian protesters here, I’d like you to note, were not breaking any laws, aside from the megaphone. “Disorderly conduct” just means “something that would have been legal, but a cop decided he didn’t like it.” If the town would like to pass a law, for example, that those protesting an event must be outside the event, fine. But they didn’t. The Christian protesters were being very careful to express their (admittedly very rude and frightening) opinions in accordance with law. Throwing a glass bottle at someone, on the other hand, is assault.

  16. 16
    Pen

    I understand that your laws are your laws and I’m absolutely sure you’re consistent. I’m sure I know your position for example on the invitation of that execrable church (I forgot their name) to the WiS conference. I happen to prefer a different law. tommykey@14 says it brilliantly. People should be able to enjoy their festival in peace. The Christians might stand around quietly with a table with information leaflets or better still, but they don’t have to behave in a way that ruins people’s enjoyment or maybe even puts them off attending.

    And while ‘Only Jesus Christ Can Save You From Sin and Hell,” “Fear God and Give Him Glory,” “Trust Jesus, Repent and Believe in Jesus,” or even “Turn or Burn,” might be just about acceptable. “Islam Is A Religion of Blood and Murder,” and “Muhammad is a . . . liar, false prophet, murderer, child molesting pervert.” are calculated insults. I assume this may be a family festival and that people’s children have to walk past that. Or people who are particularly vulnerable for various reasons. These actions are clearly harmful to those on the receiving end and to society at large. They prove that the goal of the Christians isn’t to convert or even express an opinion but to intimidate and convey their hatred. They are encouraging hatred, fear and antagonism in American society. The judges should uphold the laws, the people should think about whether they really want those laws in the first place.

  17. 17
    Ed Brayton

    The claims of harassment are irrelevant here. They were not charged with harassment (that law does not apply here, even if you think it should), nor did the police base their decision on the claim that it was harassment. The judge agrees that the speech here was fully protected by the First Amendment and based his decision solely on the violent reaction of the crowd. It can’t be that difficult to see how easily that could be turned on atheists engaging in protest.

  18. 18
    Patrick Gray

    @ Robert B

    Disorderly conduct does not just mean something that cops do not like. Once again our laws have constantly been interpreted based on the idea of what a reasonable person would find an acceptable expression of their constitutional rights in any particular circumstance. Also I was not aware that the courts changed wholesale every time another party took office. There have been limits on protest endorsed by the courts for as long as the Constitution has been in effect. Violence is also not simply limited to physical actions. If a person is yelling “fuck you” into the ear of another person and then follows them when they try to leave (not that they should have to) then that person is clearly committing a crime of harassment and even assault. And if you are committing an assault against another person you can’t very well complain when you are assaulted yourself.

    Can we agree that there is a fundamental difference between peacefully handing out literature that a person is free to utterly ignore and throw in the trash and shouting verbal abuse at them. This was also not, I’ll remind you, a political event except in the deluded minds of these fascistic loons.

    Were a Jewish group to hold a public festival should the KKK or some other Nazi group be allowed to disrupt it with a display of swastikas and bigoted vitriol? Should I be allowed to go into a church during a service and begin preaching atheism during mass? You might argue that the difference is that one is on public land and the other private but surely its an important value in a democratic society that the ability of groups to assemble and enjoy themselves should not be dependent on their financial means nor should minority groups have to undertake special measures to protect themselves that other groups do not simply because they are in a majority.

    In another recent article Ed talks about his policy of giving a loud fuck off to any person who tries to convert him while on a plane. Why? Well probably because its completely inappropriate to harass someone in a situation where they cannot, or should not have to, leave in order to get away from them. Well in Ed’s case what if the other person won’t shut up? What if they start screaming at him that he’s going to hell? This blog is always talking about freedom FROM religion in the public sphere. Does that not apply to Muslims who do not wish to have themselves and their children subjected to verbal harassment and intimidation by the kind of people who bring a pig’s head to a protest?

    What will be the consequences of allowing these kinds of protests that are simply designed to harass, incite, and intimidate. Firstly the festival will be cancelled depriving thousands of their enjoyment of it (as it has been this year). Secondly any future festival will have to go to considerable expense to provide appropriate security to keep these loons out, an expense that will have to be passed on to those attending. Lastly, as I pointed out before, extremist groups will go out of their way to be provocative as a way to ultimately silence those they imagine are their opponents.

    The Bill of Rights is not a hymn solely to individual liberties. It is, and always has been, balanced against the needs of the community. That sometimes this interpretation has been in error in placing the community above the individual does not mean that any and all times when the community has won out are wrong. In this case the Muslim community in Michigan has a perfect right to enjoy a family festival without having bigots yelling at them or harassing and upsetting their children. Too many people forget the right to assemble is predicated on such assemblies being peaceful in their inception and practice neither of which was apparent in the plans and actions of these Christian Fascists whose ultimate goal is to ethnically cleanse Muslims from the United States.

  19. 19
    Patrick Gray

    Ed I understand your argument but our laws operate in the real world.

    If a man is standing next to his sainted mother and you go up and repeatedly call her a slut you’re going to get hit. That doesn’t mean that any jury in the world is going to convict that man of assault because a reasonable person will react violently in such a situation, especially in the heat of the moment.

    We have always put limits on free speech, especially where that speech has the potential to incite or otherwise endanger public safety. That there is the potential for abuse of such laws by the wicked or powerful has always, and will always exist. This is not the case that sets off alarm bells in my head when it comes to the right to protest. What sets of my alarm bells is when this happens:

    http://www.freep.com/article/20130517/NEWS02/305170101/arab-festival-canceled-dearborn

  20. 20
    Tony! The Fucking Queer Shoop!

    Patrick:
    I disagree with your implication that violence against someone calling your mother a slut is reasonable. Name calling vs violence.
    Blaming the Christians in this case is victim blaming. Sure they were insensitive assholes, but violence against them was not a reasonable response.

    Oh, and hey StevoR, I see you have once again shown your lovely racist tendencies.

  21. 21
    Nick Gotts

    Ed I understand your argument but our laws operate in the real world. – Patrick Gray

    Unfortunately, when it comes to issues like this, Ed Brayton doesn’t. The fact that most other democracies have laws that would make the Bible Believers’ actions unlawful, but somehow have not degenerated into tyrannies, simply does not register.

    Blaming the Christians in this case is victim blaming. Sure they were insensitive assholes, but violence against them was not a reasonable response. – Tony! The Virtual Queer Shoop

    I don’t think anyone has implied that the violence was anything other than deplorable and criminal. But if you deliberately set out to provoke violence, as the Bible Believers in this case quite clearly did, you also bear moral responsibility for it, and in my view, should bear legal responsibility as well. Particularly when it is predictable that the violence will endanger third parties – in this case, law enforcement officers.

  22. 22
    Nick Gotts

    It’s just struck me how bizarrely inappropriate Ed’s use of the term “heckler’s veto” is in this post. Who the fuck started heckling whom in this case? The Bible Believers, heckling the Muslims in an attempt to veto their peaceful enjoyment of their festival.

  23. 23
    nickmatzke

    I completely support the right of the Christians to stage the protest as they did. I too hope they win this on appeal.

    I do have a question though – is there any limit on the manner in which a group like Bible Believers is allowed to express itself at an event like this? It seems that any given protest could reach a scale whereby the rights of other citizens to not be held as a captive audience is infringed upon.

    In other words, I’d be A-OK with the Bible Believers or Westboro having a presence at, say, an atheist or humanist festival. However, I would not be okay with them having such a saturating presence that my children were unable to enjoy the booths, candy, rides, etc. without their ears ringing of “You are going to burn in Hell!”; nor would I be okay with “protestors” following my family around with cat-calls and such. Such tactics could be used by a religious majority to prevent public gatherings of minority groups.

    Is there a legal line drawn between protestors having their message heard (which I’m fine with), and outright harassment (which I am not okay with)?

    <– THIS!! The way much of the discussion in thread is going, there is much concern with the Arabs having a heckler's veto, but there appears to be insufficient concern that the Christian Crazies are exercising a heckler's veto, in the sense of "we're not going to let your community and your children have a peaceful, civilized festival, without saturating it with hate, harassment, doing everything we can to incite outrage and violence" etc. It's not that much different than the extreme forms of harassment that certain fundamentalist Christians have attempted at abortion clinics. I believe courts have upheld reasonable restrictions in such instances. Everyone has rights, not just those who are the meanest and yell the loudest.

    I have no detailed opinion about the present case, but I would like to see the question addressed — at what point does free speech turn into harassment? Or is every unpopular minority group simply permanently doomed to stalker-level harassment every time they participate in a public event, as long as are unlucky enough to have some psychopathic Christian group target them?

    And, are the cops and taxpayers in Dearborn permanently doomed to fending off lawsuits every week, simply because they are making good-faith efforts to protect public safety and enforce the laws, in the face of nationally-funded hate groups coming to town and pretty deliberately pushing every button they can to provoke the crowd and cops until they get some police response, at which point they eagerly file a lawsuit to then advertise to their donors and congregations that they are fighting the evil Muslim terrorist government of Dearborn, MI (or whatever)?

  24. 24
    nickmatzke

    Also, re: bottles —

    (A) it’s not clear to me if the bottles were glass or plastic. These are different, although throwing of either is criminal and justifiably requires police response against the throwers.

    (B) Which the cops DID do, according to our information. The cops WERE going after people throwing bottles. I.e, doing their jobs.

    But:

    (C) Just what the frack were the cops supposed to do in this situation? Let it escalate endlessly until someone really gets badly hurt? How is that the best option? Are they supposed to opt for an obvious and substantial increased risk of physical harm to the public or to themselves, without even trying to calm the situation down by talking the inciters of the situation into taking a different course? I guess Ed’s beef is that the cops used the threat of “disturbing the peace” arrests as part of their persuasion. Presumably “disturbing the peace” laws are constitutional at some level, or the laws wouldn’t exist. So, how much further would this situation have had to go to be legitimately “disturbing the peace”?

    I do of course have huge respect for Ed, and he accurately called the results of another Christian-anti-Muslim-hate-group’s lawsuit against Dearborn a few years ago (Dearborn lost, the Christian group won). But I think what is sometimes lacking amongst free-speech advocates — who are of course very important to society — is any kind of tight sense of what the limits are. *IF* it were very very clear what exactly the lines are where people have crossed over from constitutionally protected speech into harassment, disturbing the peace, etc., and what the rights of people to enjoy themselves and to not be subjected to intrusive, harassing, uninvited hate-crazy, THEN I think we would have fewer of these lawsuits. Maybe that’s a pipe dream, I don’t know.

  25. 25
    nickmatzke

    As others have noted, speaking of the heckler’s veto, it looks like the (Christian fundamentalist) hecklers won, this year. The festival is canceled this year due to the city’s liability and lawsuit costs:

    http://www.freep.com/article/20130517/NEWS02/305170101/arab-festival-canceled-dearborn

    This is why we can’t have nice things.

  26. 26
    imthegenieicandoanything

    Being riot-inciting assholes certainly seems protected by the 1st Amendment, but I can’t imagine the police (I am NOT a fan of how police deal with protests) risking their own and everyone else’s safety more than they did for these openly unpleasant assholes, who were clearly not trying to present any political views, or even convert Muslims, but to instigate a violent incident.

    Of course, even here, the Muslims took the bait and acted like stupid, ordinary people instead of smart, ordinary people who happen to be Muslims. If you can’t win w/o violence, you shouldn’t be there. We don’t get to injure or kill people for being complete assholes, after all – the body count would be incredible!

    The judge was wrong, of course. The Muslims of Dearborn who reacted violently were more wrong, and may they plan a clever, devastating way to handle this sort of situation next time. The Xian assholes are by far the most wrong, though, even if, like the Phelpses, they are not legally wrong.

  27. 27
    Michael Heath

    Patrick Gray writes:

    If this kind of bigoted and boorish behavior is protected by the 1st Amendment then the lunatics have well and truly taken over the asylum.

    Uh, no.

  28. 28
    WMDKitty -- Survivor

    The “protesters” were in the wrong.

    Not initially, with the gathering and protesting. That was just fine.

    However, the second the festival attendees made it clear that they were not welcome, and to please move along, their continued activity went from “protected speech” straight to harassment They deliberately stayed, fully intending to harass and intimidate people who were just trying to have a fucking party. They may even have deliberately incited the violence, for the express purpose of being able to say, “there we were, having a peaceful* protest, and these horrible violent MUSLIMS attacked us!” (In fact… that’s looking a LOT like what happened here!)

    So don’t be to quick to go after the judge on this one.

  29. 29
    WMDKitty -- Survivor

    *Ignore the asterisk, there was supposed to be a note, but I can’t remember what it was.

  30. 30
    kevinkirkpatrick

    Hi WMDKitty,

    I’m not sure it’s that simple. Should an atheist group, handing out pamphlets at a public event, be so easily gotten rid of with “Please leave, you’re not wanted here.”? Should law enforcement treat them as harrassers if they don’t heed such requests?

    I think it comes down to the term “captive audience”: the right to free speech should end where other people’s right to not be made a captive audience starts. Street preaching is fine; any reasonable person can opt to move out of earshot. But street preaching with a megaphone and speakers spread throughout an entire city park… well, that’s not okay – it’s not reasonable that someone should be captive to the preacher’s message just to enjoy a day at the park.

  31. 31
    kevinkirkpatrick

    As a followup thought, rereading my original post, is to say that I’m actually kind of not-okay with the behavior of the Christian group here.

    But I’m thinking the real culprit here is the government. The legislative branch needs to craft laws clearly delineating where freedom of speech ends and freedom to opt out of said speech starts. The executive branch (police force) needs to be 100% crystal clear on that distinction and trained to make it clear to all parties involved what their rights are. Finally, the judicial branch needs to affirm, in a case-by-case basis, that those who violate the law are not being stripped of any of their rights.

  32. 32
    kevinkirkpatrick

    Finally, the judicial branch needs to affirm, in a case-by-case basis, that those who violate the law are not being stripped of any of their rights.

    Blech, change that last sentence to

    Finally, the judicial branch needs to ensure, in a case-by-case basis, that those who are charged with violating the law are not being stripped of any of their rights.

  33. 33
    Patrick Gray

    #27

    Wow what a counterargument! Move over H L Mencken we have a new kid in town!

    So next time a Muslim group chooses to stage, say a children’s party on public space, you’d be constitutionally fine with this group coming and yelling at the kids and their parents?

    Insanity, meet Michael Heath.

  34. 34
    jnorris

    A battle of the First Amendment: Muslims’ right to peacefully assemble v Assholes’ right to speech. Why does the Assholes’ right trump the Muslims’?

    Could a third party get an injunction against the Bible Believers for their protest being harassment?

  35. 35
    Ichthyic

    The claims of harassment are irrelevant here. They were not charged with harassment (that law does not apply here, even if you think it should), nor did the police base their decision on the claim that it was harassment.

    no, the police based their decision on pure pragmatism. It was the easiest way to defuse the situation without further escalation of violence.

    In theory, it was a failure of the ideals of free speech.

    but if you’re a cop, trying to size up the situation and defuse it, you probably would have made the exact same decision.

  36. 36
    theophontes (恶六六六缓步动物)

    StevoR hating on Muslims yet again on FtB. (Your bigotry only contributes to, and exasperates, these kinds of problems, StevoR.)

  37. 37
    dingojack

    theophontes – pile on Stevo by all means, but leave the water bears alone!
    :) Dingo

  38. 38
    lofgren

    I think I have to agree with this ruling. I support the protesters’ right to speech, but as the judge notes they had ample opportunity to make their point. The police intervened to keep the peace through the safest and most efficient manner possible, which is one of their highest and most critical mandates. This is an extremely difficult situation.

    Sometimes our society is obsessed with laying blame where it is not necessary. These cops made a tough call from the midst of a murky and complex scenario. Assuming the charges against the protesters were dismissed, it’s time to let the matter die. There is no clarity to be had here.

  39. 39
    Michael Heath

    Patrick Gray to me:

    So next time a Muslim group chooses to stage, say a children’s party on public space, you’d be constitutionally fine with this group coming and yelling at the kids and their parents?

    Insanity, meet Michael Heath.

    Conjuring up an argument and then projecting it onto someone who never made such an argument normally won’t get you far in this forum. The only exception being when some leftists defend a fellow leftist behaving badly; and then there’s only a few delusional enough to do that.

    My response @ 27 was all your absurd argument merits, i.e., ridicule.

  40. 40
    dingojack

    MH – “My response @ 27 was all your absurd argument merits, i.e., ridicule”.

    I think your ridicule needs quite a bit of work. Perhaps Modusoperandi could be of some assistance.

    Helpfully,
    Dingo

  41. 41
    democommie

    As noted by two other commenters, the KKKristians seem to have used their “heckler’s veto” much more effectively than the judge did.

    What do you suppose the situation would be if it was proven that the entire exercise by the GODloonz was to disrupt or derail entirely the Arab Festival–and had met and CONSPIRED to do so? Would that then be a violation of the law and an attempt to stop the Arab Festival’s promoters and participants from exercising THEIR 1st Amendment rights?

    I’ll go out on a limb here and suggest that if ANY non-KKKristian group (including many Christian churches) did something similar at a Church Fair being held by Assholesembly of GOD or other GODloonz groups that a violent reaction by the KKKristians would ensue in short order.

  42. 42
    Raging Bee

    But as even the judge’s ruling indicates, all of the violence came from the Muslim crowd…

    …after being deliberately provoked by the Christian hatemongers. That’s the “heckler’s veto” here: The Christians are going out of their way to veto the Muslims’ right to assemble peacefully without being hounded, threatened, and made to feel unwelcome and less than equal.

    I’m with Patrick Gray here. Christians have no more right to hound Muslims at a Muslim festival than Klansmen have to hound blacks gathering at an outdoor festival of any sort, or Nazis to preach their genocidal crap in a Jewish neighborhood.

    We need to remember that the Constitution is more than one paragraph long, and freedom of speech is not the only inalienable right in it.

  43. 43
    anthonysmith

    I agree with #41.
    This was not speech as an expression. This was speech as a weapon. Even worse that it was a premeditated conspiracy to use speech as a weapon.
    You have a legal right to own a gun, but if you go out and shoot someone with that gun, there will be legal consequences. The same should be true for speech. When you weaponize your speech, target and attack someone with it, there should be legal consequences.

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