Qur'an-burning pastor jailed after mosque protest barred

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Islamic Center of America
Image: DinajGao.

A controversial Florida pastor who had planned a demonstration outside a Michigan mosque Friday evening was briefly jailed after a court decided the protest would cause a breach of the peace and he refused to post a "peace bond" of US$1 required by the judge.

Fifty-nine-year-old Terry Jones, the pastor of a small church in Gainesville, Florida whose burning of the Qur'an sparked deadly protests in Afghanistan earlier this month, was denied a permit to stage a protest against "radical Islam" in front of the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, Michigan, where one of the largest communities of Muslims in the US is located. Dearborn police cited concerns about violence and offered alternate sites for the protest, which Jones rejected, saying his protest would go ahead as planned.

Prosecutors, concerned about possible violence, went to court on Thursday to obtain a ruling from Dearborn District Judge Mark Somers to prevent the protest. Somers conducted a one-day trial on Friday. At the trial, Jones argued that any limitations on his planned protest violated his free speech rights protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution. "The First Amendment is only valid if it allows us to say what other people may not like," Jones said in court. "Otherwise, we do not need the First Amendment."

The six-person jury reached the verdict that Jones was "likely to breach the peace" if he went ahead with his demonstration.

Prosecutors requested the judge require a $25,000 bond. Judge Somers ordered Jones and supporter Wayne Sapp, 42, to pay a $1 peace bond and agree to stay away from the mosque for a period of three years. "The peace bond is to prohibit free speech," said Sapp. Both initially refused to pay the peace bond and were remanded to the county jail. Prosecutors said that if they refused to pay, they might be jailed for up to three years. Both later paid the bond and were released.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had filed a motion for the case to be dismissed on the basis that Jones could not be forced to post a bond making him pay for police protection. An ACLU spokesperson said, "It is unconstitutional to put a price on free speech in anticipation that the speech may not be welcome by others". Robert Sedler, a professor of constitutional law at Wayne State University, agreed, saying the US Supreme Court has determined that it was unconstitutional to require a bond for police protection.