A Pennsylvania judge has dismissed a harassment charge against a Muslim man accused of choking an atheist dressed as the prophet Muhammad. The Patriot-News reports:
Judge Mark Martin said there wasn't enough evidence to convict 46-year-old Talaag Elbayomy of the summary offense. It was basically one man's word against another's, the judge said.
Elbayomy was accused of attacking Ernest Perce V, of the Parading Atheists of Central PA, during the Oct. 11 parade. Perce claimed Elbayomy tried to take his "Muhammad of Islam" sign and choked him.
The defendant in the case is an immigrant, and said he did not know his actions were illegal, or that is was legal in the U.S. to depict Muhammad in any form.
Martin called Perce a "doofus" in court, and scolded him for mocking Islam. The judge determined that Perce’s actions were "way outside [the] boundaries [of] first amendment rights." Martin is an Iraq war veteran and a Muslim convert.
Audio of the case is on Youtube (Martin's ruling begins at the 28-minute mark):
MARTIN: In many other Arabic-speaking countries (that are) predominately Muslim, something like this is definitely against the law there, in their society. In fact, it could be punished by death—it frequently is, in their society.
Here in our society, we have a constitution that gives us many rights, specifically First Amendment rights. It’s unfortunate that some people use the First Amendment to deliberately provoke others. I don’t think that’s what our forefathers really intended; I think our forefathers intended that we use the First Amendment so that we could speak with our mind, not to piss off other people and other cultures, which is what he did.
Police Sergeant Brian Curtis, the officer who handled the case, told a local ABC news affiliate he was "disappointed" with the outcome.
"Mr. Perce has the right to do what he did that evening, and the defendant in this case was wrong in what he did in confronting him," Curtis said. "I believe that I brought a case that showed proof beyond a reasonable doubt."
Andrew McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor, called the ruling "as shocking and disgraceful as anything I’ve ever seen from an American trial judge."