Public Safety or Prior Restraint? Quran-Burning Pastor Barred From Protesting In Front of Michigan Mosque

Even for the most committed civil libertarians, it is hard to work up sympathy for Quran-burning Pastor Terry Jones. However, that is the plight of free speech advocates — you often end up supporting the most obnoxious members of our society. In Dearborn, Michigan, the order barring Jones from protesting utside of the Islamic American Center raises some constitutional concern.

It appears that the matter was presented to a “jury” which found a proposed protest by Jones and his associate Wayne Sapp was likely to breach the peace and incite violence.

This is a rather novel system where a jury is allowed to rule a protest to be a danger based on the anticipated response of others.

After a general matter, the use of such a jury does not improve the matter in terms of free speech. A jury of citizens is even more likely to support silencing unpopular individuals or groups. The Constitution generally does not allow for the prior restraint of speech based on the anticipated response of others. This is why a Nazi organization was given the right to march in Skokie, Illinois.

It reportedly took a jury 3 hours to deliberate and rule against the pastor. Mitigating the effect in this case is the fact that Jones was only required to post $1 though it is not clear what liability he had to assume in the act of posting in light of the finding of the potential for violence. Moreover, he may have wanted to preserve his claim for an appeal. Jones was taken into custody when he refused to pay the bond. The bond was paid by an unknown third party.

What is equally problematic was the argument of prosecutors that Jones should only be allowed to protest at another site in a “permit free zone.” That would appear a significant limitation on speech.

The prosecutors insisted that the sheriff was correct in denying the permit outside of the mosque.

It did not help Jones that he was carrying a firearm that accidentally discharged in the parking lot at Detroit TV State WJBK Thursday night.

In its closing argument, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office argued, “Just because we have the first amendment doesn’t mean you can say anything or do anything at any time.” This statement was tied to the over-used argument that you cannot yell “Fire” in a crowded theater. It is a maddening argument that is used to justify all sorts of prior restraints. Here the prosecutors are analogizing Jones’ religious beliefs to yelling “fire” — an argument that is merely a way to say that someone’s views are too unpopular to be freely expressed.

Source: WXYZ as first seen on Reddit.

Jonathan Turley

99 thoughts on “Public Safety or Prior Restraint? Quran-Burning Pastor Barred From Protesting In Front of Michigan Mosque”

  1. The futility of reasoning with crazy
    By Gene Lyons

    Americans used to pride themselves on being a practical people, largely immune to religious and political dogmatism. Commonsense and know-how were universally seen as virtues. Crackpots and zealots of the David Koresh, Jim Jones type have abounded, but rarely commanded a mass following.

    “It ain’t so much the things we don’t know that get us into trouble. It’s the things we know for sure that just ain’t so.” This proverbial expression so perfectly sums up American pragmatism that it’s been wrongly attributed to upwards of a half dozen wise men, ranging from Mark Twain and Will Rogers to Yogi Berra. It actually appears to have been the tag line of humorist Josh Billings, a sort of 19th century Jeff Foxworthy.

    Today, Billings would be scorned as an elitist and chastised for incivility. Unfortunately, when it comes to politics a sizable proportion of our fellow Americans have abandoned reason for demonic conspiracy theories, magical thinking and miracle cures.

    Increasingly, one of our two great political parties appears to be governed by what Charles P. Pierce calls the “Three Great Premises” of talk radio: “First Great Premise: Any theory is valid if it moves units … Second Great Premise: Anything can be true if someone says it loudly enough … Third Great Premise: Fact is that which enough people believe. Truth is measured by how fervently they believe it.”

    Maybe it’s hard times, and maybe it’s an African-American president with an odd name, but several leading contenders for the 2012 GOP nomination express ideas that might lead to involuntary hospitalization anywhere outside a Tea Party rally or a TV studio.

    After all, it’d be one thing for me to believe I was secretly married to Juliette Binoche; quite another to fly to Paris to seek her out.

    Consider Donald Trump. This preposterous self-promoter has been near-ubiquitous, expressing Looney Toons notions about President Obama previously confined to emailers who write in all caps: “WHEN ARE YOU GUYS GOING TO GET AWAY FROM THE KOOL-AID LONG ENOUGH TO START LOOKING INTO THIS MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE?”

    Confronted with Obama’s certified birth certificate by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, even noted flake Rep. Michele Bachmann abandoned the conspiracy theory of the president’s origins. (I’m betting she already regrets this lapse into temporary sanity.) Leading Republicans such as Karl Rove and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer have argued that “birtherism” makes sensible voters think of the GOP as the Nut Party.

    So naturally Trump’s emerged as the odds-on favorite to win the Republican nomination, assuming he seeks it. (Trump release his income tax records? I don’t think so. The man bankrupted several casinos.) So while I don’t think he believes the nonsense he spouts, what’s he up to? Alas, the simplest explanation is that he’s running.

    Prediction: Releasing Obama’s long-form birth certificate will change few minds. You can’t argue with crazy.

    Alas that’s merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg where GOP delusional thinking is concerned. Judging by my inbox, a large proportion of angry white men also believe that the burst housing bubble and financial meltdown of 2007-8 were caused by — wait for it — President Jimmy Carter. A version of this poisonous myth has been popularized by syndicated columnist Thomas Sowell.

    Carter, see, signed the Community Reinvestment Act, supposedly requiring banks to make real estate loans to improvident ghetto dwellers who couldn’t repay them. President Clinton, Janet Reno and Acorn then threatened lawsuits, forcing banks to make bad loans, selling them off to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and bankrupting the treasury.

    I sometimes challenge True Believers. Never mind that no law ever encouraged bad loans, I say. Shouldn’t Presidents Reagan, Bush I or Bush II have done something? Rep. Barney Frank, comes the response, prevented a vigilant George W. Bush from acting.

    And how did a minority congressman do that? Frank would resent being called a “minority” one guy answered. Uh oh, I think we’ve touched bottom. There’s no point mentioning W’s advocacy of sub-prime lending to somebody with no clue how the U.S. government works.

    Also contrary to Republican mythology, the infamous Bush tax cuts did anything but increase revenue, as tax cuts never do. As Fiscal Times columnist Bruce Bartlett shows, federal revenues dropped from 20.6 percent of GDP in 2000 to 18.5 percent in 2007. The 2008 recession dropped them to 14.9 percent, where they linger today — the proximate cause of current huge budget deficits.

    Ah, but here’s the tricky part. GOP delusional thinking’s not merely impervious to reality, it’s also not confined to the Republican Party. Every public opinion poll extant shows that large majorities of voters want no reductions to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Oh, and no new taxes.

    By a 2-to-1 majority, Americans also think that Congress should refuse to increase the national debt limit.

    People wouldn’t say that if they understood the consequences. Alas, sometimes the things you don’t know can also hurt you.

    Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). You can e-mail Lyons at More: Gene Lyons

  2. Buddha,
    The movie was pretty good. The survivors were frightened and some of their kids were mad and one guy at work who was normally a cool and calm guy, was hot under the collar. The kids who were around my age didn’t want the parents to live through the holocaust all over again. The police did a good job keeping both sides separated. Plus, the Nazi wannabe was a snake and a pussy. He folded under the pressure of the counter demonstrators.

  3. Buddha agreed. I just think the whole Bible burning, Koran burning, burn down your Church, burn down your Mosque thing is wrong. It annoys me to no end to see people use religion to polarize. It’s disgusting. Someone should ask Jones what does he think Jesus meant when he said, “Pray for your enemies?” Now there is some free speech he could really engage in.

  4. Well . . . with the possible exception of “Atlas Shrugged”. 😉

  5. erykah,

    I for one would like to say that I’m all for Muslims burning Bibles in protest of Christians burning the Koran . . . just as long as its Bibles they bought. That is as much their right as it is the right of the Christians to burn the Koran. That being said, I generally find the whole idea of book burning repellent no matter the book.

  6. The Skokie story reminded me of something that happened in Brandon, MS. Brandon is in Rankin County, and is a suburb of Jackson, MS.

    Staff Sgt. Jason Rogers, who was killed in Afghanistan on April 7. He was from Brandon, MS. His funeral was last week. The local community heard the Westboro Baptist Church crowd intended to show up and spread their hate at the funeral. In the meantime, a funny thing happened. Local citizen Zach Magee said, “As soon as we heard that Westboro was gonna’ be here, we didn’t want that to happen,” “I’m a firm believer in human rights, and I believe it should be a natural given human right to be able to bury your loved ones without negativity brought towards that,” Magee proceeded to organize a counter protest via Facebook and other outlets.

    The trouble seems to have started the day before the funeral. One of the Westboro extremists stopped at a Brandon gas station, and while there, according to statements, “Starting running his mouth.” He got up into the fact of one of the locals who took umbrage at the attitude and words. The local man proceed to give the WBC offender a thorough Rankin County thumpin’.

    When the police arrived, nobody had seen a thing and all discounted such an incident had ever occurred. The WBC guy, according to reports, must have fallen and skinned himself up pretty good on the pavement.

    It gets better. At the motel where they were staying, every car with Kansas plated had a vehicle with Mississippi tags double-parked behind it. They called the local towing companies, but all said they were too busy to respond.

    My sources also tell me the few Westboro members that did manage to get to the funeral were picked up by officers to be taken down to the station for an interview. The police needed to know what they knew about a crime they might have been involved in. The police needed to interview them regarding their various complaints, including the alleged thumpin’ in the gas station parking lot.

  7. erykah
    1, April 25, 2011 at 9:25 pm

    …………… As for upholding Muslim rights to protest in front of a white church, maybe I am underestimating the folks on this list. I do not mean to do so, but I am cynical. So I will have to see it to believe it.


    Yep … you are underestimating a great many of us but there are times we do have to fight the impulses to try and find a a loose corner-edge in the Constitution. Thankfully there’s always a few who remind us to get a grip … it’s not always the same few and it’s not always the same us.

  8. raff,

    Did you ever see the TV movie they made about Skokie? If so, how do you think it compared to the real events being that you lived through them?

  9. What’s ACLU done for First Amendment rights lately? The Skokie conflict was in 1977

  10. Rafflaw, I value your input. I imagine it was a nightmare for the people of Skokie on several levels. The tension between the First Amendment and what many (most) would consider common decency is exemplified by that case. I’m glad free speech won but I’m sorry it had to be this case to illustrate that dramatic tension. You don’t get to pick your battles though, the a-holes do it for you, you just have to respond properly.

  11. Oh, by the way Chan, I’m not sure it was nice to say erykah is nobody.

  12. I don’t know, Chan.

    Maybe because crazy people hijacking threads aren’t funny after awhile.

  13. Kay,


    Get psychiatric help.

    If you turn your obsession on me?

    It will end badly for you.

  14. Buddha,
    You have done it again. Erykah is laughing out loud sure nuf!

    As for Kay, I don’t know what the fuck you are talking about and my guess is neither do you.

    As for upholding Muslim rights to protest in front of a white church, maybe I am underestimating the folks on this list. I do not mean to do so, but I am cynical. So I will have to see it to believe it.

  15. so noone wants to buy your legal services, Buddha is laughing and you are a stay at home parent supported by your working wife or by your parents?

    Please describe the last three cases you were paid to act as an attorney for, if any.

    Do you make enough as a lawyer to buy attorney liability insurance?

    What do you think of the idea of having pools of attorneys with group funded liability pooling?

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