Friday, April 22, 2011

An Exercise in Foolishness

Florida pastor Terry Jones was going to hold a protest today in Dearborn against Sharia law in the United States. He apparently does not know what Sharia law is, but hey, why let that stop him.

However, the city of Dearborn refused to give him a permit for the place he wanted to hold it, and so the matter ended up in court where a jury agreed with the prosecutors that the protest was likely to cause a breach of the peace, thus breaking a little used law written before Lincoln was president (Abraham Lincoln, that is). The prosecutor wanted a $45,000 “peace bond” to pay for the costs of police overtime and other costs to the city. The judge set the bond at $1 and ordered Jones and his assistant to stay away from the mosque for three years.

There are some interesting things here.

One is the issue of free speech. Can a protest be restricted? Jones said no. The jury said yes. Historically, free speech has been given a pretty wide berth. Not today, however.

Here’s the rub: They were being restricted based merely on the possibility that someone else might do something—namely, disturb the peace. To me, it’s a strange thing that the court was tied up trying a case that hadn’t even happened. There were no facts for the jury to consider. It was all based on speculation.

Dearborn can say this wasn’t about content (and they are). But they were worried that the content of his speech might incite a “breach of the peace.”

I think there’s a good case that this should have never gotten to court to begin with.

And the irony is that if it would not have gone to court, things would have actually been better because in the end, taking Jones to court in an effort to preserve the peace didn’t work. A crowd of several hundred people gathered in a counter-protest, thus requiring the police presence that the peace bond was was supposed to pay for. Except the bond didn’t get paid.

And then Jones went to jail for refusing to pay the bond for a protest that had not yet happened. In other words, he went to jail for something he had not yet done, and was not even required to do.

The crowd that gathered was pretty rude and loud, both at the courthouse as well as at the police station. The anger and hatred in the crowd was probably worse than the protest would have been.

I think this is a place where Proverbs 26:4 takes over. Terry Jones is a fool. By answering him, the city of Dearborn gave him not just fifteen minutes of fame, but a whole day, and more to come.

Had they not taken him to court, the rains would have severely dampened any protest. And ignoring him would have been the worst thing you could do to him. He wants publicity. And this gave him far more than a little protest in Dearborn would have given him.

You see, there are some things in life that you make worse by responding to.

This was one of them.

My bet is that this isn’t over.

Dearborn’s effort to save a few thousand dollars on a protest is going to end up costing them a lot more by the time this is litigated.

And Jones got what he wanted. He got a lot of publicity for his cause (more than he ever would have gotten through a simple protest). He also gets to claim the city of Dearborn is being run by Sharia law and is acting unconstitutionally.

All in all, the jury made a bad mistake. The City of Dearborn made a worse one.

The loser is the constitution.

The winner is, believe it or not, none other than Terry Jones.

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