by Jane Briggs-Bunting
Florida Pastor Terry Jones is in a Dearborn, Michigan court this morning (April 22) trying to persuade a jury of seven that his plans to hold a protest later today in front of the Islamic Center of America should be allowed, and he should not have to post a $40,000 peace bond. The Dearborn area is home to one of the largest Arabic populations in the U.S.
Jones is more than 1,000 miles north of his Gainesville, Florida church, where he burned a copy of the Koran several weeks ago and made headlines worldwide last year when he said he would burn 200 copies of the Muslim sacred text on September, 11, 2010. He didn’t on that date, but did burn the Koran in March because he says he was duped by a New York Imam last summer. Seven UN workers and five others were murdered by protesters in Afghanistan in demonstrations after his book burning antics were put on You Tube.
He flew to Michigan on Thursday and was met at Detroit’s airport where he was escorted to court for a hearing. The City of Dearborn has refused to give him a permit to hold his protest in front of the Islamic Center but did give him permission to hold it in front of City Hall, one of several free speech zones in Dearborn, a middle class community and headquarters of the Ford Motor Company.
The city’s mayor, John O’Reilly, Jr., a Catholic of Irish descent, sent a letter to Jones His letter is worth a read.
Not only did he offer Jones a prime permit free location for his protest, he also gave some very cogent reasons why Jones shouldn’t and couldn’t hold his protest where he planned.
The Islamic Center is on private property, and, wrote the Mayor,
“… has no public property to accommodate crowds, spectators, parking or the media. There is just a small public road with limited access which can’t be blocked and an adjacent grassy area for drainage…And, this property you are focusing on, in front of the Islamic Center of America, is also adjacent to four Christian churches, all of which will be hosting Good Friday services, adding to the traffic flow and congestion. It is ironic that the road that you want to protest near is called Altar Road, so named because it was first constructed to provide access to a row of churches constructed in the 1950s reflecting Dearborn’s diverse faith communities…”
Nonetheless, Jones is determined to have his way. Get more publicity, is more likely.
The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution does allow citizens to assemble and petition. But, as the U.S Supreme Court ruled in March of this year in the Snyder v Phelps decision (that was the Westboro Church members who protest military funerals) communities can regulate the where and when of protests by promulgating reasonable rules.
Dearborn did this years ago by passing an ordinance creating permit free protest zones within the city. Pastor Jones, however, apparently believes he is above the law. He doesn’t want to pay the $40K peace bond – likely he can’t afford it since his congregation has shrunk and the collection plate doesn’t bring in as much as it used to. The county prosecutor says that bond is needed because the threat of violence is so great extra police protection (that means overtime pay) is necessary. So now he is representing himself in a court hearing that he worries will drag on beyond his 5 p.m. planned protest. We can only pray that it will! The Detroit area gets enough black eyes in news coverage and Dearborn borders the city.
Meanwhile, back at the Islamic Center, an Interfaith Community Event was held last night with another planned for later today, Good Friday, one of the holiest of days in the Christian calendar. Participants include many of the local pastors, priests and ministers from area churches and lots of regular folks. It’s getting good local coverage but certainly won’t get many views on You Tube in Afghanistan.
That’s the plus and minus of the 24/7 news cycle and the world wide web. Back in the day, Pastor Jones’s 15 minutes of fame would have ended months ago.
This gun-toting pastor (his .40 caliber handgun accidentally went off, shooting a hole in the floor if his rental car last night while leaving a local TV station) has said, permit or not, he will hold his protest where he’s planned.
And the county prosecutor and Dearborn police say if he does, he will be arrested.
I suspect neither God nor the Constitution will protect him.