Pennsylvania Magistrate Dismisses Harassment Charges Against Muslim Defendant

The net has been abuzz about a recent case where a state magistrate judge dismissed harassment charges against a Muslim defendant. It is alleged that the defendant confronted and attacked an atheist (dressed as Zombie Mohammad). Zombie Mohammad was dancing with “Zombie Pope” in a local Halloween parade. In court, the Muslim man denied touching anyone, but did admit he confronted the victim over the costume.

At trial, Judge Mark Martin found that there was not enough evidence that the alleged attacker acted with the intent to harass, alarm, or annoy the victim. The judge claimed this was a situation of conflicting stories–although a police officer did testify that the Muslim attacker admitted to him after the incident that he indeed grabbed the victim. In trying to give the judge the benefit of the doubt and since he is in the best position to judge the credibility of testifying witnesses, maybe his ruling passes the smell test.

What is bothersome, however, is the lecture the Judge gave to the alleged victim. The Judge told the man that he was “way outside the bounds of First Amendment rights” in wearing the costume. The Founding Fathers, Judge Martin lectured, did not intend for Americans to “use speech to piss off others.” This was an example of “the ugly American.” We are too self-centered, the Judge said, and “don’t care about the rights of others.” The Judge further told the victim that he was lucky that this was not a Muslim country where people are put to death for such conduct. Unlike Americans, Muslims take religion seriously, the Judge noted, and thus the wearing of the costume was an attack on their very being. An audio recording of the Judge’s diatribe can be found here. More details about the case and crime can be found here.

Unfortunately, some of our friends on the Right are claiming that Judge Martin used Sharia law to throw out the case. (See, for example, this post from the New American) I have seen no evidence of that.

The real story here is not the verdict, but a state judicial officer’s complete ignorance of the First Amendment and the rights it protects. Both the Zombie Mohammad and Zombie Pope costumes were in poor taste, but poor taste is not the standard we use under the Constitution. Symbolic Speech has long been recognized by the Supreme Court. Apparently, Judge Martin needs to bone up on constitutional basics.

Something also offensive is the implication that because American Christians don’t start altercations over “Zombie Pope” or other offensive matters, we don’t take religion seriously and our faith is not part of our very being. I wonder if Judge Martin ever stopped to think that maybe 200 plus years of experience under a Constitution that protects speech might have something to do with the lack of a confrontation with “Zombie Pope”? Good behavior on the part of the crowd toward Zombie Pope is not necessarily indicative of lukewarm attitudes toward religion. As a Christian, because my God is the creator of the universe and all authority and power is given to the resurrected Christ (Matt. 28:18), Halloween costumes aren’t an issue for me–my God is much bigger than that.

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