Freedom of Expression

Zombie Mohammed [with updates]

If reported correctly, this seems like a worrying story.  Apparently Ernie Perce, while dressed as a ‘Zombie Mohammed’, was assaulted by Talaag Elbayomy, a Muslim, at a Halloween parade in Pennsylvania.  Although the local police felt that this was an open-and-shut case, things did not go Mr Perce’s way. The Judge, Mark Martin, ruled in favour of the defendant, and expressed his disapproval of Perce:

Well, having had the benefit of having spent over two-and-a-half years in a predominantly Muslim country, I think I know a little bit about the faith of Islam. In fact, I have a copy of the Koran here, and I would challenge you, sir, to show me where it says in the Koran that Mohammed arose and walked among the dead.

[Unintelligible.] You misinterpreted things. 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.

And Mr. Thomas [Elbayomi’s defense lawyer] is correct. In many other Muslim speaking countries – excuse me, in many Arabic speaking countries – call it “Muslim” – something like this is definitely against the law there. In their society, in fact, it could be punishable by death, and it frequently is, in their society.

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.

Their greetings, “Salaam alaikum,” “Alaikum wa-salaam,” “May God be with you.” Whenever — it is very common — their language, when they’re speaking to each other, it’s very common for them to say, uh, “Allah willing, this will happen.” It is — they are so immersed in it.

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.

This seems extraordinary logic – what is the relevance of other countries’ laws when deciding a case in the US? – and an unfair outcome.  And I imagine that many Muslims, whatever they thought of Mr Perce’s Halloween costume choice, would have preferred the judge not to act in a way which will feed anxieties about Islam in the US.

Alan A adds:

Here is a news report on the case from ABC, which shows the various Zombie Popes and similar ghouls on the parade.

The Volokh Conspiracy posts a link to the audio of the Judge’s comments, and notes:

Commenters have queried whether the judge is actually Muslim; I think that at 31:25 in this audio he does expressly say “I’m a Muslim, I find it very offensive,” and not in a context where a “not” seems to be lost or somehow implied; but some commenters disagree, partly based on other passages in the audio — if you’re interested, check out the discussion in the comment thread. Naturally, I think the judge’s condemnation of the victim is out of place (and casts doubt on the judge’s objectivity in his decision about the defendant) whether or not the judge is a Muslim.

This does appear to be what he says. I expect we’ll find out.

Now, because this judge is, probably, Muslim, this case is being reported as an instance of a “Sharia Court”: which I suppose on one reading, is fair comment. But I’d compare it with the various instances of judges quoting from the Bible or agitating about displaying the Ten Commandments in court, and so on, that make the headlines from time to time.

Doubtless, this case will be repeated, when silly attempts to pass laws explicitly banning “Sharia Courts” are made. The solution here is not to create special laws, but to enforce the ordinary law: which in the United States, decrees a separation of church and state.

Sarah adds Sharia or Cheria?  It’s interesting to draw a parallel between the Zombie Mohammed case and this irritating example of a non-Muslim judge’s religious views (or views about religion) interfering in the legal process.  And here is a link to another post from The Volokh Conspiracy arguing that this case should not be used to support anti-Sharia laws.

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