How Far Does Free Speech Go?

I will admit that free speech is not always comfortable. We have allowed Nazis to hold parades in America under the banner of free speech, and I am sure that everyone has groups they disagree with that hold parades or protest various things. That is their right. Or so we thought.

CBN News is reporting today that a federal appeals court has ruled against a group of Christian evangelists who were forced to leave an Arab-American street festival in Dearborn, Michigan, in 2012.

The article reports:

Festival-goers threw rocks and water bottles at members of the Bible Believers group when they denounced Islam and called Mohammed a false prophet.

In response, Wayne County authorities threatened to ticket the Christian group if they did not leave.

On Wednesday, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals backed county authorities, ruling 2-1 that police were only trying to keep public order.

The article included part of the judges’ ruling:

“The video from the 2012 festival demonstrates that (evangelists’) speech and conduct intended to incite the crowd to turn violent. … Although robustly guarded by the First Amendment, religious conduct remains subject to regulation for the protection of society,” the three-judge panel wrote in its ruling.

Think about that for a minute. The judge was judging the intent of the evangelists–not the actions of the crowd. I thought when you threw a bottle at someone, you were responsible for throwing the bottle–I didn’t realize that the person you were throwing the bottle at was responsible for making you mad.

The dissenting judge had an opinion more in line with the First Amendment:

“The First Amendment protects plaintiffs’ speech, however bilious it was,” Judge Eric Clay wrote in his 11-page dissent. “The majority … provides a blueprint for the next police force that wants to silence speech without having to go through the burdensome process of law enforcement. I expect we will see this case again.”

Again, the evangelists were simply speaking–they were not rioting or destroying property. It was their speech that was stopped–not the actions of the violent crowd. We have forgotten who we are.