If you have spent much time studying First Amendment cases you will know that many of the most important cases center on the activities of people with whom no one in his or her right mind would want to have dinner. The bottom line: It’s easy to protect the free-speech rights of nice people. It’s harder to take a legal stand in defense of Nazis who want to assembly and march through a Chicago suburb that is home to hundreds of Holocaust survivors.
This brings us, logically enough, to the Rev. Terry Jones of Florida, the guy who keeps trying to draw media attention by creating bonfires using copies of the Quran, despite appeals from U.S. military leaders that symbolic speech of this kind could lead to the deaths of us troops and other personnel based in tense Islamic cultures.
I would add that his actions could also, when twisted, be used to justify the slaughter of Christians in places like Syria, Egypt and Iraq, not that this is an important a story right now or anything. Just saying.
No one here wants to stand up and cheer for Jones. However, the Associated Press ran a truly disturbing story from earlier this week about his latest brush with the law. Read the top of this story — care of a link to The Washington Post — carefully:
MULBERRY, Fla. — Law enforcement arrested a Florida pastor … as he drove to a park to light nearly 3,000 Qurans on fire to protest the 2001 terrorist attacks.
Polk County sheriff’s deputies arrested Pastor Terry Jones, 61, and his associate pastor, Marvin Sapp Jr., 34, on felony charges as he drove a pickup truck towing a large barbecue-style grill filled with Qurans soaked in kerosene. He had said he was heading to a nearby park to burn 2,998 Qurans — one for every victim of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Sheriff’s officials said they would hold a news conference later Wednesday to discuss specific charges.
Mulberry’s mayor, along with area elected officials, a sheriff’s deputy and several Polk County residents have talked about the need to express love and tolerance for all faiths on Sept. 11.
OK, did you notice any important, rather basic, information missing from that part of the story?
Let’s read on, looking at some key factual material.
Jones … first gained attention in 2010 when he planned to burn a Quran on 9/11, although he eventually called it off. His congregation did burn the Muslim holy book in March 2011 and last year he promoted an anti-Muslim film. All three incidents sparked violence in the Middle East and Afghanistan. …
An Egyptian court convicted Jones, along with seven Egyptian Coptic Christians in absentia, sentencing them to death on charges linked to the film. The ruling was seen as largely symbolic because Jones and the other defendants live outside of Egypt.
Just last week, a federal judge in Michigan issued a summary judgment in favor of Jones and his organization, Stand Up America Now, against the city of Dearborn for requiring Jones and his organization to sign a city-issued agreement in order to speak on public property in front of a Dearborn mosque in 2012.
Nope, still missing a key fact about this event which pivots — hint, hint — around his First Amendment rights.
Maybe the fact will surface at the end of the piece? Let’s check.
Mike Ghouse, who has organized a 9/11 prayer service in his home state of Texas for nine years, brought his event to Mulberry because of Jones’ planned Quran burning. He initially had planned to hold the service in Texas but teamed with a group of Mulberry residents who had organized an anti-Jones Facebook page.
“Everyone has a right to believe what they believe,” said Ghouse, adding that it was Jones’ right as an American to express himself. Others said that while Jones was free to say or do whatever he wanted, the people of Mulberry didn’t want the world to think that the residents condone or agree with Jones’ views.
“We don’t buy what Jones is selling,” said Polk County resident Butch Rahman.
Nope, readers still have no idea about the answer to a rather basic question: Why was Jones arrested? If Jones and his associate pastor were hit with felony charges, what were the alleged crimes that led to these charges and to their arrest?
Please do not misunderstand me. I am not asking about the wisdom of his Quran-burning obsession. In this case, I am not even asking GetReligion readers to spend much time pondering the First Amendment rights of Jones and his troubled flock.
No, I am asking a journalistic question, one that certainly should have been answered in this news story. What law did they violate? Yes, I know Jones has had run-ins with the law on other dark issues, to say the least. But this time his associate pastor was arrested, as well.
Illegal grilling in a public picnic area? If the charge was creating a disturbance, then that would be an interesting issue to settle in court (in light of other disturbing and even law-breaking public demonstrations that take place in our nation from time to time). Did he violate some unwritten blasphemy code?
Why doesn’t this story tell us why Jones was arrested? Is it assumed that his actions are so beyond the pale that this is not necessary?
Now, over at The Daily Caller, the following information was provided, not that it answered many of the relevant legal questions:
Jones was arrested on an unspecified felony charge, which has been reported as “transporting hazardous materials,” after he was pulled over in Polk County with nearly 3,000 kerosene-soaked copies of the Koran in the bed of his pickup truck, which was towing a barbecue grill. …
The Polk County Sherriff’s office could not immediately be reached after normal business hours for clarification on Jones’ felony charge.
That’s a start.