Guilty of Insulting Islam (FrontPageMagazine.com) By Jacob Laksin interview with Ernest Perce 04/20/12)
Front Page Magazine.com
Front Page Magazine.com Articles-Index-Top
Last October, Ernest Perce was marching in a Halloween parade in
Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, dressed up as a zombie version of the
prophet Mohammed when he was physically confronted by Talaag
Elbayomy, a Muslim immigrant who found his costume offensive.
According to Perce, Elbayomy grabbed him, chocked him, and then tried
to rip off the “Mohammed of Islam” sign that Pence wore around his
neck. Elbayomy later admitted to a police officer on the scene that
he had tried to grab the sign, believing that it was a crime in the
United States to insult Mohammed. But when Pence brought criminal
harassment charges against Elbayomy, the district judge, Judge Mark
Martin, dismissed the case. More outrageously, he proceeded to
lecture Perce in a stunningly ignorant fashion about his rights under
the First Amendment. After claiming that the First Amendment was
intended “so that we could speak what’s on our mind, not to piss off
other people and cultures,” and informing Perce that in Muslim
countries causing such offense to Islam “could be punished by death,
and frequently is,” the judge in effect blamed Pence rather than his
attacker. “You are way outside your bounds of First Amendment
rights,” the judge concluded. Since then, the judge’s comments (which
he does not deny making) have touched off a national firestorm of
criticism and controversy. Perce, the Pennsylvania state director of
American Atheists, joined Front Page to discuss his legal ordeal, the
threat to free speech in the U.S., and the explosive reaction to the
FP: What message or messages do you think were sent by the judge’s
decision to dismiss your case – and especially by his decision to
chastise for you giving offense to Muslims?
EP: In my opinion, the message sent by the judge is that Muslims now
have the absolute right to defend their religious beliefs, even if by
means of force.
FP: In the course of berating you, the judge claimed that the
American Founders did not mean for the First Amendment to be used to
give offence but rather to speak one’s mind. Among other problems,
that would seem to be a contradiction, since speaking one’s mind is
liable to give offence. What did you make of his reasoning in this
EP: At first, I didn’t believe what I was hearing. When I marched in
the Halloween parade, it was in support of the right of free speech.
I believe I have the right to tell the followers of Islam that, in
this country, their religion can be mocked, and that the law protects
that right. That is why we have a First Amendment. I believe the
founders intended to protect speech that some – including the
followers of Islam – may find offensive.
FP: Your case has certainly generated a great deal of media
attention. What do you make of the discussion that it has generated,
including the many defenses of your First Amendment rights from
bloggers, journalists and law professors? Were there any reactions
that stand out in your mind?
EP: The discussion that was and is generated was overwhelming. On the
one hand, the death threats I received, and the vitriol from some of
the bloggers, was insane. At the same time, I was encouraged by the
fact that many people who understand the law, including many law
professors, were on my side. Most of all, I took heart in the fact
that I knew I was not breaking any law when I dressed up as Zombie
Mohammed. In fact, I believe I was saying what many Americans wanted
to but maybe were afraid to say: no religion is above mockery.
FP: On the darker side, which you hint at, you have reportedly
received over 500 death threats. What has been the nature of those
threats — for instance, are they all from Islamists? — and how are
you coping with this menacing situation?
EP: The death threats are from mostly Islamists, namely the Muslim
Brotherhood, but I have had some threats from atheists, who claim
that they will “kick my ass” because I am supposedly giving atheism a
bad name. I was on a radio show and made a comment that nearly got me
booted from the atheist movement. I was addressing the followers of
Islam and I said:
“I do not respect your filthy, repugnant, and vile views. I will not
allow you put fear in my mind or in the mind of those whom I know. I
will not be silent with my disdain and disgust for your culture or
your terroristic ways. I am an American atheist, and I am not afraid
to deal with you openly and in the same manner that I treat
Christianity. I am not afraid to publicly blaspheme your pedophile
prophet. I will do this on a corner, in a crowd, or a parade! While
so many others draw Mohammed, I am Mohammed in open public! Am I
worried about being attacked or death threats? I’m more worried that
if I stay silent that the energy and emotion within me will be worse
to me than being attacked or even death threats! So do your worst and
I will do mine.”
That didn’t go down well with some in the atheist movement, but I
don’t apologize for saying that.
FP: Since the ruling there has been a remarkable backlash against the
judge, Mechanicsburg District Judge Mark Martin, and he and his staff
have been temporarily relocated to another courthouse for safety
reasons. What are your thoughts about that unfortunate consequence?
EP: I think it’s regrettable that the judge has to fear for his
safety. But at the same time, this is a nation that has been attacked
by radical Islamists. So when a judge – who is also a veteran soldier
and who is supposed to be fighting for the sake of our Constitution –
sides with Islam in this way, what do we expect? The nation was
furious and we have every right to be furious. Moreover, the judge
has been relocated and has unlimited protection, but what about me? I
have zero protection. The judge could have found my attacker guilty.
Then, no protection either way would have been needed. How do you
become the most hated judge in America? Allow Islam to trump the
FP: Do you think the American legal system at present is too
accommodating of Islamic sensibilities in the name of religious
sensitivity? For instance, the Center for Security Policy recently
issued a report reviewing 50 Appellate Court cases from 23 states,
and concluded that Shariah law has entered into state court
decisions, often in conflict with the Constitution. Is your case just
the tip of a broader national problem?
EP: There is no doubt that Sharia law is creeping into the legal
system, and my case is proof. While there has never been an American
so brash as to dress as Mohammed in public, the judge’s decision to
side with my attacker shows that Islamic favor is evident in court
decisions. We need not be accommodating to any religion. No people
are above the right to be offended. This is America. No religious
belief should be given a free pass.
FP: Even though the judge dismissed your case, it has clearly struck
a chord. What are your plans now? Do you intend to pursue the issues
you raised in the case, either through the legal system or by
speaking out about it?
EP: I plan to file a judicial complaint. I need help with this,
however. I need an attorney who can take all my thoughts and
formulate them into a judicial complaint that the board will
understand. I do not have the funds adequate to pay for an attorney
or a professional writer. Most local attorneys won’t help me unless I
can generate about a one thousand dollar retainer, and so far I have
saved just $395.00. I will keep saving and when I have enough, I will
hire an attorney who can assist with this. This judge must be removed
from the bench. He favors Islamic rule over the rule of law and I
believe that makes him unfit to serve.
FP: Any final thoughts?
EP: People need to learn to take out their aggression in non-violent
ways. When you become an American you should adapt to our way of
life. You should respect the rights protected by our Constitution.
Talk about your frustration, protest what you do not agree with. But
don’t resort to violence to silence those you disagree with.
Americans have no problem with people of any faith coming to our
country. But those people should know that because we are the land of
the free, we are also free to offend. (Copyright © 2012
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY