Is Islam Compatible with Free Speech?


Via Eugene Volokh comes some welcome news for watchers of First Amendment jurisprudence, as the Sixth Circuit has decided to rehear a “heckler’s veto” case concerning an incident that happened a couple years ago in Michigan. Briefly summarized, the city of Dearborn, MI, which has a large Arab American population, annually holds an Arab International Festival that is free and open to the public. As such, in First Amendment terms, it is a “traditional public forum” and thus speakers there are entitled to the highest levels of First Amendment protections.

Into this forum one year came a group called the Bible Believers who were wearing T-shirts with Christian slogans and holding banners with Bible verses. Some of these, by all accounts, were offensive to the religious sensibilities of Muslims (although not, by any objective definition, obscene). They then began preaching loudly in the forum, including doctrine that was offensive to Muslims and undisputed historical facts that are offensive to Muslims (such as the fact that Mohammed had a predilection towards brides who would by modern standards be considered shockingly underage).

The reaction of the crowd was probably somewhat predictable, given the above-stated facts:

As the Bible Believers moved deeper into the Festival, the crowd — a good portion of which appeared to be minors — continued to gather and yell. Some people started throwing debris — including rocks, plastic bottles, garbage, and a milk crate — at the Bible Believers. Someone in the crowd also shoved one Bible Believer to the ground. Some WCSO officers detained debris-throwers while other officers hovered at the edges of the crowd. Eventually, after about thirty-five minutes, the Bible Believers temporarily stopped preaching and stood as the crowd harangued them and hurled objects. Several officers, including some mounted units, attempted to quell the crowd.

After about five minutes of standing quietly, the Bible Believers began to move and preach again. As they did so, the cascade of objects intensified. Deputy Chiefs Richardson and Jaafar approached them a few minutes later. Jaafar explained that they could leave and that their safety was in jeopardy because not enough officers were available to control the crowd.

The Bible Believers, however, continued to preach, followed by what had swelled into a large crowd. Richardson and Jaafar then took Chavez aside to speak with him. Richardson noted his concern that Chavez was bleeding from where a piece of debris had cut his face. Richardson …read more    

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