In one of the most appalling rulings by a judge in some time, Pennsylvania Judge Mark Martin declared that there was no evidence to convict a Muslim man of attacking an atheist dressed as “zombie Muhammad” in a Halloween parade.
Last year, the Pennsylvania State Director of American Atheists, Ernest Perce, was dressed as zombie Muhammad and another man dressed as zombie Pope when a Muslim immigrant, Talaag Elbayomy, attacked Perce because he was insulting his prophet.
Witnesses report that Elbayomy grabbed Perce’s beard and sign, but did little else physically besides following him to a police officer where Elbayomy thought Perce would be arrested for illegally depicting Muhammad. Fortunately, the First Amendment has not been dismantled to the point of that happening.
Martin did not allow a video of the attack to be played in the court, which is also disturbing. Depending on what other evidence was introduced, there may be some legal justification for letting Elbayomy go. The assault was limited in scope. The greater travesty here is not Elbayomy being declared not guilty, but the dressing-down that Martin gave Perce in apparent disregard for the Constitution.
Here is part of Martin’s ruling:
“Having had the benefit of having spent over 2 and a half years in predominantly Muslim countries, I think I know a little bit about the faith of Islam. In fact I have a copy of the Koran here and I challenge you, sir, to show me where it says in the Koran that Mohammad arose and walked among the dead.”
Martin must know what satire is, but to disregard it during a Halloween parade and challenge the victim to prove that he was trying to present that Mohammad actually walked among the dead is not just disregard for a constitutionally protected right but an abandonment of common sense. Undoubtedly, there were people dressed as witches, ghosts, vampires and other fantasy characters. Some people might actually believe these exist, but no one is comparing paraders with depicting the behavior of actual ghosts and similar supernatural beings.
Martin continues with rant-like ruling:
“I think you misinterpreted things. Before you start mocking someone else’s religion, you may want to find out a little bit more about it. It makes you look like a dufus and Mr. Elbayomy is correct. In many Arabic-speaking countries, something like this is definitely against the law there. In their society, in fact, it can be punishable by death and it frequently is in their society.”
Even if Perce was a dufus, why is a judge using that term in a ruling? It has no more relevance than the judicial processes of the “Arabic-speaking countries” that Martin refers. Those laws have no bearing on the United States. Perce was making a religious statement fully within his constitutional rights. If there is a dufus in this matter, it isn’t Perce or even Elbayomy, but the dufus of a judge sitting on the bench.
Here we find that the real problem from Martin’s point of view is that Perce was “very, very, very offensive,” which in most courts is very, very, very constitutional.
“Then what you have done is you have completely trashed their essence, their being. They find it very, very, very offensive. I’m a Muslim, I find it offensive. But you have that right, but you’re way outside your boundaries or first amendment rights. This is what, and I said I spent about 7 and a half years living in other countries. When we go to other countries it’s not uncommon for people to refer to us as ugly Americans. This is why we are referred to as ugly Americans, because we are so concerned about our own rights we don’t care about other people’s rights as long as we get our say, but we don’t care about the other people’s say.”
Martin’s ruling continues to miss judicial sensibilities by a wide mark. He stated that Perce has the right to protest, but then stated that he is “way outside your boundaries or First Amendment rights.” If this judge has so little understanding of the Constitution to think that marching peacefully in a parade is violation of the First Amendment, he needs to be removed from the bench.
Martin goes on to say that Americans care only about what they say, not what “other people’s say.” This case wasn’t about what other people say but a criminal assault, although it appears that Perce’s First Amendment rights were as much on trial as Elbayomy’s assault on Perce. Elbayomy had the right to say whatever he wants. He just was not allowed to accost Perce, or, in this case, should not have been allowed to get away with it.
In the first video, ABC 27 summarizes the case. In the second video, Perce was allowed to make a recording of the proceedings, which he summarized in 36 minutes. It is heavy in text and easy to jump around and navigate through if you don’t want to listen to the entire thing. At the beginning, Perce noted that Martin warned him not to publicly release the recordings under threat of jail.
It will be interesting to see Martin’s reaction, but the public outcry over this should keep Perce out of jail. Now it needs to send Martin back to private practice.
UPDATE: An earlier version of this article stated that Martin is a Muslim. He is actually a Lutheran.