Most of you probably remember Terry Jones. He is the preacher that burned the Qu'ran in Florida which angered radical Muslims who rioted and killed 21 people in retaliation.


A few weeks ago, he started trolling for more attention when he announced that he was going to protest outside of the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn Michigan. Dearborn has a large Muslim community and the mosque is the largest in the United States so it is understandable why he chose that particular venue.


Dearborn officials were worried that his actions could start a riot. Additionally, there were other logistical concerns such as the roads leading to the mosque just weren't big enough for the amount of people expected to turn out to the event. Therefore, the prosecutor in the city filed a petition to prevent him from holding his demonstration. The city then told Jones that he could only hold his protest in one of the four designated free speech zones. I want to note that these free speech zones are not new. The city has had them in place long before Terry Jones came into the national spotlight.


They also required him to pay a $40,000 bond because they anticipated that his actions may cause an outbreak of violence or rioting. Jones refused to pay the bond and refused to hold his demonstration in the designated places. The officials then told him that he would be put in jail if he demonstrated outside of the mosque.


Well, fast forward to yesterday 4/23. Terry Jones is in jail because he attempted to stage a protest outside of the mosque. Jones is claiming that his free speech rights have been violated.


"You may not agree with what we've done," Jones said, addressing the court for the first time in his baritone preacher's voice Friday morning. Quick to defend his constitutional rights, he added, "This is, to a certain extent, a First Amendment issue ... and the First Amendment does us no good if it confines us to saying what popular opinion is."


And the ACLU wrote a brief agree with him:


The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed a friend of the court brief. "If the First Amendment means anything, it means that the government cannot interfere in a person's free speech simply because it doesn't agree with the message or because someone else may not agree with the message," spokesperson Rana Elmir penned in the statement. "As reprehensible as his beliefs may be," Elmir added, "we believe this is an unconstitutional attempt to limit his unpopular speech."


You can read the article on Huffington Post.


The incident raises a couple of issues. First, I don't agree that Jones' right to free speech was impacted. As I understand the First Amendment you can say what you want. However, the government can limit where you say it especially if there is concern that your words could result in physical harm. The common example given is that you can't yell fire in a crowded movie theater because that could incite a panic where people get trampled to death.


The second issue that I think is even more interesting is actually something that has been brought up several times since the Qu'ran burning incident which is the reaction of the Muslim community to criticism of their religion. Why should the Dearborn government be afraid that the Muslim community is going to react violently to a protest of their religion?

I've never heard of riots in Dearborn before even after the Qu'ran burning incident. So I guess my question is are the Dearborn officials thinking of what happened overseas and thinking the same thing may happen in their city if Jones confronts them or is this an example of the Muslim community earning a reputation, perhaps undeserved, of being a religion that will cut the head off anyone who criticizes them?


Then the other thing is, is it really our responsibility to not offend them, or any other religion, out of fear of a violent reaction? Or is it their responsibility to not be offended or find a different way to express their unhappiness at the thing that offended them?



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I agree. There's no point in having the right to freedom of speech if you can only do it in government designated zones. I've never agreed with the concept of "free speech zones" - the whole of the United States is a "fee speech zone", it says so in the constitution.

And on the issue of causing a riot: when was the last time a white supremacist event was halted for fear of inciting minorities to violence?

The fear of riots is no better of an excuse to stop Terry Jones than it is to stop any controversial group from protesting. If riots do happen, then the blame lies firmly with the people who start them: Terry Jones never forced or persuaded anyone to commit violence, they chose to do that themselves, so they don't have the right to blame anyone else for their own actions. If US leadership had any backbone, they'd condemn the people really responsible for the violence at the UN embassy: the fanatics who made a conscious desicion to go and kill people simply because someone else offended them. If any other group did something like that in response to a protest this debate wouldn't be happening.

Terry Jones is a despicable human being, but he has the same rights as everybody else and I think they were really being pushed, if not outright denied in this case.


"There's no point in having the right to freedom of speech if you can only do it in government designated zones."

You would be in favor of having WBC picket where they so choose at funerals of soldiers killed abroad waving signs like "thank God for dead soldiers" under police protection in the faces of grieving parents I suppose?

Or is there room for a proper exception to the absolute principled position of the whole of the United States being a free speech zone, and is the United States also a country where grieving parents do have the right to bury their killed sons and daughters in peace, with dignity and without being harassed by a horde of retarded Jesus-jokers, under the cover or the guise of the Constitution?

This self-defeating anti-government extremism that is so ubiquitous in the US remains alien to me.

" You would be in favor of having WBC picket where they so choose at funerals of soldiers killed abroad waving signs like "thank God for dead soldiers" under police protection in the faces of grieving parents I suppose?"


Absolutely. And I'm also in favor of the group that blocks them off and drowns them out with motorcycles or surrounds them with angels. The reason they're not allowed inside the cemetery is because that's a private location and they are barred.

I think the question of conflicting rights and weighing them against each other is legitimate. Where Ryan says, and I understand - well I am doing my best - where he's coming from, that he "absolutely" would support harassment of grieving parents and support counter-demonstrations as well, in the meantime of course in the real world, the rights of those parents to have a peaceful and dignified funeral for their son or daughter have been spit on and the procession turned into a freak-show. I mean try to put yourself in their shoes.

Hey Ryan,
Just out of curiosity, but how many counter-protests have you attended? Because umm.. I have done safe-escort programs to help women get through the "picket lines" at abortion clinics in cities that don't have free-speech zones. I could only handle a few hours at a time. Since you can't effectively police specific incidents of assault in a mess like that, (as opposed to where you can in like...say..a free speech zone) your protection to say what you want WHERE you want compromises the physical safety of doctors, nurses and patients as well as the psychological distress of women who are already very, very scared.
Free Speech Zones exist because not everyone protests as peacefully as the rest. I have been spit on (which is considered assault) had my photo taken with unnecessary flash photography as a means to distract/blind me in a crowded, potentially dangerous situation AND usually end up being shoved/jostled enough to have an impressive arrray of bruises.
Imagine what happens if a situation turns into a stampede?
Sorry, mate.
Free Speech zones exist to keep people (and sometimes police) alive. Not all locations are ideal for mobs of pissed off people. It is a matter of logistics, not rights.

That's the best argument I've read on here yet re: free speech zones. I will have to think on that. In the meantime...

Spitting, jostling, shoving, etc. is not free speech. I do not support that. While I do support their right to say whatever, wherever, unwanted physical contact is still a crime along with other things that are not included in free speech. I think that once you cross that barrier, you are a criminal, but not before. 

You are free to say (almost) what  you want. But it does not immediately follow that you can say it where you want, when you want, or how (medium) you want.

What if he had insisted instead of yelling his message through a megaphone at 3 am on a school night in a residential area?

False dichotomy.  As was pointed out, your rights end where another person's begin.  The scenario you describe would be "disturbing the peace" which is a violation of existing laws.  That's quite a bit different than a city government making shit up on the spot for the express purpose of denying someone their right to free speech.  It's just not the same thing at all.

I wasn't giving a choice between two scenarios, just an example of speech which would clearly not be protected, thus no dichtonomy involved, much less a false one. You could possibly cry slippery slope fallacy, but since no clear set of rules was offered, things do tend to end up on a slippery slope until a set of rules have been established.

Anyway, the free speech zones are not designed to limit free speech per se, just to provide an arena where free speech can flourish without interrupting society more than needed. As Misty eloquently pointed out, there is an issue of public safety involved, and though this is not a good argument for denying anyone their free speech of saying what they want, it is a good argument to regulate the where and a decent one to regulate the when. The how is generally self-regulated by the social understanding of timing and means accessible.

I think Terry Jones is an attention whore and he's entirely happy with Dearborn officials decisions. Otherwise he would have to put in more effort to get the same result.

They make a mockery of free speech and morphed it into the absolute right of harassment. Now that's how you build up a healthy society, by feeding the flames of hate.

If the Westboro folks have the right to demonstrate at military funerals....why doesn't Terry Jones have the right to burn a book where he feels it's pertinent?  Understand that I despise both of these actions...but I value freedom of speech more.
If I walked up and harassed my local traffic-screamer and he beat the hell out if me (as mentally-handicapped hobos of violent criminal history sometimes do in the bay area) how much responsibility would belong to him, and how much would belong to the chick that decided to harass a schitzophrenic hobo who currently had piss running down his leg while he waved a large stick at incoming lanes?
On a large scale, I understand that a real fix would be to insure that we live in a world where all people, especially vets, have ample mental health assistance and a warm bed.
However, since a real fix isn't anymore possible for religion in general than it is for eradicating homeless vets, there isn't really a solution so much as finger pointing. At the end of the day, who cares if one was
"more guilty" than the other. Too bad it was a handful of innocents that died instead of the friends and family of that bozo. I doubt that coward would be so gung ho about pissing off the cavemen if it was his don or daughter working at the UN.


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