Rules Are for Schmucks: A Second Chance for Free Speech

Arab International Festival in Dearborn, MI. Photo by Omar Chatriwala via Flickr.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed to re-hear a case that’s vitally important for anyone inclined to criticize religion. Maybe they’ll get it right the second time.

Dearborn, Michigan, puts on a festival each year celebrating its residents of Arab origin, just like other cities have festivals honoring Italian, Polish, Mexican, or other “hyphenated Americans.” In recent years, because many (though not all) Arabs are Muslims, a group of Christian zealots who call themselves the “Bible Believers” has taken it upon themselves to show up at the festival armed with leaflets and placards to remind these infidels what terrible people they are.

Their message is utterly obnoxious. The words are bad enough (e.g., “Turn or Burn,” “Islam is a religion of blood and murder”) but the pig’s head on the end of a stick is over the top. Still, this is America, not Iran. With very few exceptions, people have a right to express themselves as they please, even if doing so offends others.

It didn’t take long before rocks and bottles began to fly at the Bible Believers. Police converged on the scene. You might expect that the police went after those committing the violence, perhaps taking one or two into custody to dissuade the rest. But that’s not what happened. The police instead went after the Christians, who were doing nothing other than holding up signs, passing out leaflets, and talking. The police ordered them to leave and threatened to arrest them for disorderly conduct if they refused.

It’s all captured on a YouTube video, which quite clearly shows the Christians doing nothing other than spreading their message and the police not lifting a finger against any rock or bottle thrower. Tellingly, when the group’s leader asks the policeman why they’re being threatened with arrest, he disgustedly responds, “You’re creating a disturbance. I mean, look at your people here—this is crazy,” pointing at their signs.

A three-judge panel of the court of appeals ruled 2-1 against the demonstrators last summer, oddly citing an earlier case ruling that it was no First Amendment violation for police “to prevent violence, protect persons at the rally, and protect property and businesses . . . while groups of differing viewpoints express their beliefs.” But that’s exactly the problem here—groups of differing viewpoints were not allowed to express their beliefs. The previous year, at the request of the Bible Believers, the festival organizers had set up a “free-speech zone” where they could threaten hellfire to their hearts’ content, with adequate protection. This year, for reasons unknown, their request was denied.

Now the full fifteen-judge court, apparently troubled by the arguments made by the dissent, will re-hear the appeal.

What makes this all the more troubling is that it’s symptomatic of a trend of political correctness making it unacceptable for anyone to say anything negative about Islam. Ayaan Hirsi Ali calls it a “racism of low expectations.” These are just Muslims, the thinking seems to run. You can’t really expect to hold them to the same standards as normal white people, can you? For her troubles in speaking out about Islam, Hirsi Ali was recently denied an honorary degree from Brandeis University. Now there’s a petition at that bastion of free speech, UC-Berkley, to prevent Bill Maher from speaking for the same reason.

George Orwell would be proud of the latest example of 1984 “Newspeak,” in which our president assures us that the Islamic State “is not Islamic.” The logic appears to be that Islam is good; the Islamic State is bad; therefore, the Islamic State is not Islamic. The fact that the Islamic State requires people in captured territories to convert to Islam on pain of death doesn’t really fit this narrative, though. Nor does the fact that the Islamic State’s chosen PR flourish, the beheading of captives, comes straight out of sacred Islamic scripture. Ibn Ishaq, one of the most revered eighth-century historians of the life of the prophet Muhammad, describes the outcome of one of his battles against the Jews: “Then they surrendered, and the apostle confined them in Medina … Then the apostle went out to the market of Medina (which is still its market today) and dug trenches in it. Then he sent for them and struck off their heads in those trenches as they were brought out to him in batches. …There were 600 or 700 in all, though some put the figure as high as 800 or 900.” Imagine how tired his arms must have felt!

Even Secretary of State John Kerry is on board, describing Islam last week as a “beautiful religion” that’s being “distorted” by the Islamic State. Here’s a quick fact, Secretary Kerry. In September, in England, there were 467 new cases of women or girls turning up in hospitals because of genital mutilation. Leaving out Sudan, Pakistan, and other countries where there are thousands of times as many Muslim women, and considering that these are just the women in England brave enough to risk brutal retaliation by going to a hospital, we’re talking about fifteen women a day, every day, for a practice condoned by Muslim authorities all the way up to al-Azhar University itself. If Islam is a beautiful religion, I’d hate to see an ugly one.

But please don’t throw rocks at me for saying this, because I don’t want to go to jail.