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Guilty of Insulting Islam
by Jacob Laksin and Ernest Perce
Last October, Ernest Perce was marching in a Halloween parade in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, dressed up as a zombie version of the prophet Mohammed when he was physically confronted by Talaag Elbayomy, a Muslim immigrant who found his costume offensive. According to Perce, Elbayomy grabbed him, chocked him, and then tried to rip off the "Mohammed of Islam" sign that Pence wore around his neck. Elbayomy later admitted to a police officer on the scene that he had tried to grab the sign, believing that it was a crime in the United States to insult Mohammed. But when Pence brought criminal harassment charges against Elbayomy, the district judge, Judge Mark Martin, dismissed the case. More outrageously, he proceeded to lecture Perce in a stunningly ignorant fashion about his rights under the First Amendment. After claiming that the First Amendment was intended "so that we could speak what's on our mind, not to piss off other people and cultures," and informing Perce that in Muslim countries causing such offense to Islam "could be punished by death, and frequently is," the judge in effect blamed Pence rather than his attacker. "You are way outside your bounds of First Amendment rights," the judge concluded. Since then, the judge's comments (which he does not deny making) have touched off a national firestorm of criticism and controversy. Perce, the Pennsylvania state director of American Atheists, joined Front Page to discuss his legal ordeal, the threat to free speech in the U.S., and the explosive reaction to the case.
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