Someone e-mailed us about this last night but I didn’t have time to look into it and figured the facts couldn’t be as bad as he suggested. Wrong: They are that bad. An atheist was parading down the street as “Zombie Mohammed” last year when a Muslim bystander allegedly flew into a rage and started to choke him. Watch the first clip below; it’s hard to tell what’s going on but something happened, resulting in both the victim and the attacker supposedly tracking down a cop to complain. Why would the suspect want to talk to a cop? Because, silly: He thought it was a criminal offense to insult Islam. And as it turns out, it almost is.
The cop testified at the trial but despite his testimony and the video, the judge — a Muslim convert — dismissed the charge for lack of evidence. As Eugene Volokh notes, that’s arguably defensible: If he thought the cop wasn’t credible for whatever reason then he wouldn’t have much left to get him to “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Don’t get hung up on the dismissal, though. The true outrage here is in the lecture that this halfwit delivered from the bench to the victim, not the attacker. Andy McCarthy at the Corner has the full transcript but this will suffice:
Before you start mocking someone else’s religion you may want to find out a little bit more about it. That makes you look like a doofus…
Here in our society, we have a constitution that gives us many rights, specifically, First Amendment rights. It’s unfortunate that some people use the First Amendment to deliberately provoke others. I don’t think that’s what our forefathers really intended. I think our forefathers intended that we use the First Amendment so that we can speak our mind, not to piss off other people and other cultures, which is what you did.
I don’t think you’re aware, sir, there’s a big difference between how Americans practice Christianity – uh, I understand you’re an atheist. But, see, Islam is not just a religion, it’s their culture, their culture. It’s their very essence, their very being. They pray five times a day towards Mecca. To be a good Muslim, before you die, you have to make a pilgrimage to Mecca unless you are otherwise told you cannot because you are too ill, too elderly, whatever. But you must make the attempt…
Then what you have done is you’ve completely trashed their essence, their being. They find it very, very, very offensive. I’m a Muslim, I find it offensive. [Unintelligble] aside was very offensive.
But you have that right, but you’re way outside your bounds on First Amendment rights.
Listen for yourself here. He never quite gets to the point of saying that the atheist had it coming — remember, the charges were dismissed supposedly, supposedly, because there wasn’t enough evidence to prove that any harassment occurred — but that’s the upshot of this gratuitous little sensitivity lecture in open court. I can’t imagine what this means either: “[Y]ou have that right, but you’re way outside your bounds on First Amendment rights.” It’s incoherent, but to the extent that he means mocking Mohammed might not qualify as protected speech, I think he’s suggesting that it might fall under the “fighting words” exception to the First Amendment. That’s one of the dumbest, most pernicious lines of Supreme Court free-speech jurisprudence precisely because it gives prosecutors an avenue to suppress especially “insensitive” speech if they’re so inclined. I wonder what would have happened here had Pennsylvania charged the atheist with harassment on grounds that insulting Mohammed constitutes “fighting words” to Muslims and therefore his speech isn’t protected. Would this stupid judge have convicted him? Read McCarthy’s transcript and decide for yourself.
The worst part of this? The state can’t appeal. At first blush I thought prosecutors might be allowed to appeal an acquittal in a bench trial as opposed to a jury trial, but a little googling tells me no. The alleged assailant evidently is off scot free. The only avenue left may be to try to sanction the judge for ranting at the victim about how thoughtless it was of him to exercise his First Amendment rights. At a minimum, calling the guy a “doofus” violates Canon 3(A)(3) of the Pennsylvania Code of Judicial Conduct, which says judges should “be patient, dignified, and courteous to litigants, jurors, witnesses, lawyers, and others with whom they deal in their official capacity.” We all know the left won’t move a muscle to discipline this guy so it’s up to Pennsylvania Republicans. Hop to it.