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February 28th, 2012
09:46 AM ET

Judge’s dismissal of atheist's harassment claim against Muslim makes waves

By Dugald McConnell and Brian Todd, CNN

(CNN) - A protester who ridiculed the Muslim prophet Mohammed claims he was assaulted by a Muslim who was offended by the stunt, but a judge has sympathized with the alleged perpetrator, in a case that has drawn national attention.

Self-proclaimed atheist Ernie Perce marched in a Halloween parade in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania last October, dressed in a costume mocking Mohammed.

In a YouTube video he posted, Perce can be seen wearing a long fake beard, a white turban and green face paint, calling out provocative phrases like: "I am the prophet Mohammed! Zombie from the dead!" Perce and someone else in a zombie-themed pope costume are carrying a banner that reads "The Parading Atheists of Central Pennsylvania / Ghoulish – Godless – God-Awful."

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Then a man who is not seen on the video can be heard saying, "Take it down." Amid sounds of a scuffle, Perce can be heard saying "Hey, he's attacking me!"

Perce told CNN affiliate WHTM that the man “grabbed me, choked me from the back, and spun me around, to try to get my sign off that was wrapped around my neck."

Based on Perce's complaint, a Muslim named Talaag Elbayomy was charged with harassment. But on December 6, District Judge Mark Martin dismissed the case, saying it was one person's word against another's, and that there was no other evidence or eyewitness testimony to prove that Elbayomy had harassed or touched the alleged victim.

The judge also scolded Perce, saying he’d been needlessly provocative on an issue sensitive with Muslims.

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"You have that right, but you're way outside your bounds of First Amendment rights," Martin said, according to a recording Perce made of the court hearing. "I think our forefathers intended that we use the First Amendment so that we can speak our mind, not to piss off other people and other cultures, which is what you did."

The judge went on to point out that in many Muslim countries, ridiculing Mohammed could warrant the death penalty under Islamic law.

Critics say Martin's lecture shows he used Muslim cultural grounds to excuse a deplorable assault, and failed to defend an atheist's First Amendment rights.

"That's greatly disturbing to people that believe in free speech," said George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley. "You can say things that are hurtful to others. We hope that you don't, but you most certainly can be protected. People like Thomas Paine spent his entire life ticking off people across the colonies."

Former terrorism prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy, writing on the blog of National Review, accused the judge of allowing the Muslim suspect to invoke a "Sharia defense – what he claimed was his obligation to strike out against any insult against the prophet Mohammed."

And Perce said of Judge Martin, "He let a man who is Muslim, because of his preference of his culture and his way of life, walk free, from an attack."

The judge, in a phone interview with CNN, defended his ruling.

"The commonwealth didn't present enough evidence to show me that this person is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt," Martin said. "That's why I dismissed the case. Nothing as nefarious as what everyone's thinking, that I'm a Muslim or I'm biased. I'm actually a Lutheran."

Martin added that he has served three tours of duty, totaling more than two years, in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he learned more about Muslim culture.

"It just amazes me that people think that I'm biased towards Islam," he added. "I got sniped at once, I got ambushed once, I got attacked by a mob once... I've served close to 27 years in the military - and have gone overseas - exactly to preserve that right [freedom of speech.]”

But Martin also repeated his criticism of the atheist protester. "With rights come responsibilities. The more people abuse our rights, the more likely that we're going to lose them," he said. " We need to start policing up our own actions, using common sense, in how we deal with others."

Attorney R. Mark Thomas, who represented the Muslim suspect, blamed Perce for the Halloween altercation. "The so-called victim was the antagonist," he told WHTM. "I think this was a good dressing down by the judge."

A blog post by the group American Atheists disagrees. "That a Muslim immigrant can assault a United States citizen,” it says, “in defense of his religious beliefs and walk away a free man, while the victim is chastised and insulted... is a horrible abrogation."

Watch The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer weekdays at 4pm to 6pm ET and Saturdays at 6pm ET. For the latest from The Situation Room click here.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Atheism • Halloween • Islam • TV-The Situation Room

soundoff (2,453 Responses)
  1. devin

    This thread is full of some of the most ignorant people I have ever had the displeasure of reading.

    It doesn't matter who provoked what, assault is assault. Regardless of this particular case and whether or not the judge had proof, he/she had no right to lecture the guy on doing what he has the complete right to do and should be protected from attack while doing it.

    March 1, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • ski2xs

      Actually, as a Judge and an interpreter of our Law, he does have that right. Now, you can feel free to try to tell him that one day while he's on the bench, but you'll have fun with a contempt citation.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
    • momoya

      If judges were automatically correct like you imply, there'd be no appeals process.

      The judge threw out evidence.
      The judge lectured the victim in a "you were asking to be r.a.ped by wearing s.l.utty clothes" style argument.
      The judge lectured the victim on religious laws of other nations.

      I mean, I know this idea is just sooo crazy, but I can't help thinking that the appropriate response to speech is speech, not a physical beat down.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
  2. Jon

    The Judge both says "there's no evidence" and "you were needlessly provocative". He CONTRADICTS HIMSELF. If there's no evidence he was assaulted, what was provoked, pray tell? The Judge needs to be dismissed - he is obviously incapable of being honest and hence of carrying out justice.

    March 1, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • ski2xs

      Um. . . Jon. . . .I don't think he said there was no evidence of an assault. Please learn to interpret. He stated there wasn't enough evidence to convict the defendant of assult. There's no contridiction here, just a failure on your part to interpret what was said.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
  3. InFormed

    The judge ruled that there was insufficient EVIDENCE to convict. That was his judgement, period, end of court case, case dismissed. THEN he opened his trap and made an opinion that has been interpreted as supporting Shira Law. Come on. He was just saying, 'if you don't want to get stung, then don't go kicking a hornets nest'. The First Amendment Rights allow you to say these things, and some brave people will speak their minds, but don't expect a free pass from people who are equally passionate about their views.

    March 1, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • Jon

      Exactly: He opened his trap and ADMITTED THAT THE ATHEIST WAS STUNG, thereby contradicting his previous statement that there was no evidence of harrassment. The Judge is an disgusting, dishonest @ss who obviously assigns zero importance to justice. Kick him the heck off the bench, my gosh!!!

      March 1, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
  4. Danman

    Assault is assault, it doesn't matter if you incite it or not, it is a crime to commit it. They could charge the idiot in the mask with inciting violence for something he know will be taken as a mortal offense to Muslims. It's the same thing as inciting a riot. What if a riot did happen? If a guy dressed as satan paraded through utah city same thing would happen...

    March 1, 2012 at 11:41 am |
  5. Ella

    So is this open season now on Westboro, as long as it is 'he said, she said?' Freedom of speech protects unpopular speech, that is its job.

    March 1, 2012 at 9:49 am |
  6. notatall

    Aiding and abetting terroism.

    March 1, 2012 at 9:20 am |
  7. Dave

    Obviously there was not enough evidence to convict the alleged attacker, and it is what the judge said after that is causing the trouble, however we're talking about Muslims who will kill people for showing lack of respect for their holy book. Their prophet was a child raping pedophile. That statement alone could get me executed under sharia law. This judges comments will further strengthen Muslims feelings that they're legally protected while attacking anybody who they feel is disrespecting their religion.

    March 1, 2012 at 8:31 am |
    • smarterthandave

      there was video. the pos islamic judge would not allow it and did not give a reason.

      i did my homework, why should i have to do yours as well?

      March 1, 2012 at 9:21 am |
  8. errr

    Had a friend who was black, beat up a white kid who called him the N word. The judge threw out the case against my friend for what I think was the white kid inciting hate. The Atheist was doing nothing more than that. Inciting hate, No diff than those religious wack jobs that burned the Koran. He went into it to get a reaction and he got one. Should have thought it though a bit, lucky the muslim wack job didnt kill him. Remember the dude who got killed just for drawing a cartoon of mo? Dude was just stupid.

    March 1, 2012 at 1:00 am |
    • Ted

      According to the law, it is not illegal to make fun of people. You can say whatever you want as long as it does not threaten their physical safety. You have the freedom to ignore it as well. While living in a free country you have the freedom to express your views as much as you have the freedom to ignore them. If someone is calling you names or says ignorant crap you have the freedom to not give a crap or say something back. The judge dismissed the case because the video did not show the attack. The law states that you cannot find a person guilty by assumption. The audio suggests that their was a confrontation but you need indisputable evidence to be charged. I am an atheist and I agree with the judge on dismissing a case if the evidence is not efficient. The reason why this caused controversy is that he lectured the victim on his actions that presented a view of a biased decision. The judge probably made the correct ruling according to the facts but he caused controversy by including a lecture that stated his personal opinion about the victim's intentions. If he left is personal judgements out of the ruling then this probably wouldn't have been an issue.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:35 am |
    • momoya

      @ errr

      Ah, the classic "she was asking to be r.a.ped wearing such clothes" blame the victim mentality. It's never far away. Wasn't that the excuse the terrorists gave for 9/11? America was asking for it?

      March 1, 2012 at 11:09 am |
  9. Reality

    Only for the newbies–––->

    What the judge failed to remember:

    What instigated the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon?

    And what drives today's 24/7 mosque/imam-planned acts of terror and horror?

    The koran, Mohammed's book of death for all infidels and Muslim domination of the world by any means. Muslims must clean up this book removing said passages admitting that they are based on the Gabriel myth and therefore obviously the hallucinations and/or lies of Mohammed.

    Until then, no male Muslim can be trusted anytime or anywhere.

    See p. 38 for the evidence.

    March 1, 2012 at 12:09 am |
    • Jason

      Add this idiot right here is why our great country has all the problems it has. Read up on who actually attacked us and why, and you will find that you are grossly misinformed. Go back to faux news bud they collect people like you over there.

      March 1, 2012 at 8:03 am |
    • .....

      reality does not think it posts copy paste bull sh it that others have written . it is all crap hit report abuse on this repet itive garbage and move on.

      March 1, 2012 at 9:07 am |
  10. momoya

    Oh my? Did I hit a nerve, dearie?

    Look, if you want to have people beat you up for what you say, I'm sure you can find those with beliefs similar to yours who can help you out on that objective. After you go and accomplish that goal, I'll still think it's criminal for the judge who hears your case to throw out evidence just because they don't like what you said to the guy that beat you up. Personally, I think it should be illegal for your judge to lecture you, the victim, for "asking for it" with what you said. Personally, regardless of what you said to "deserve it," the guy who assaulted you should be charged with "harassment" at the very least. And that's what I say if it happened to you.

    You see, my morals don't change based on who the victim is, I don't think a victim should be blamed in a crime, and I don't think a judge should get away with shirking his responsibilities to the court and the public. Perhaps that's because I'm a dirty filthy atheist granny, but I'm okay with that.

    February 29, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
    • Salero 21

      Sorry, but there was not such an assault. There was a bogus claim and charges of Harrasment. That may not be the same animal. The decision of the judge was based on lack of Evidence and witnesses. No Evidence, no Witnesses, no admission of guilt on the part of the accused. No case. It was nothing more and nothing less than a scuffle between 2 tards. Don't even qualify for a Jerry Springfield show. No justification for the court to pursue. No need to spent time and taxpayers money on such an asinine case.

      Next case Please!

      February 29, 2012 at 11:25 pm |
    • momoya

      See? Was it so hard to just converse like a normal person?

      Try to understand this: If the story was about anyone, including you, and I thought I understood the facts as I do now, I'd still feel the same way. From my research I understand the judge to have committed several offenses for which he should be charged in any way possible. From my research I understand that charges to be completely true and accurate and the atheist was assaulted. Based on that information I stick completely by every word I've said, and I would feel the same way if it were you or anyone else. Physical harassment is not an appropriate response to verbal harassment. Judges shouldn't be dishonest and biased. Can you believe how horribly unreasonable I am?!? All that rash atheist ranting and raving must be horrible for you. I can't believe you made it this far.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:10 am |
    • EnderWiggin

      @momoya "From my research I understand the judge to have committed several offenses for which he should be charged in any way possible. From my research I understand that charges to be completely true and accurate and the atheist was assaulted"

      Can you provide us links to this research?

      March 1, 2012 at 9:06 am |
    • Salero 21

      Again momoya, the article and the videos, (both the News and Perce's), do not provide or support the claim. Now you're saying that you've done some research. I'll ask you the same as EnderWiggin; Where is that "research"? All of the trolling atheists rants in this blog have only showed beyond any reasonable doubt that atheists are as bigoted, fanatical as any other group or religionists they criticize. Regards!

      March 1, 2012 at 10:44 am |
    • momoya

      So now, all of a sudden, you are now agreeing with the same argument you have ridiculed for the past few pages. Why the sudden change of heart?

      Now you're disagreeing with me for a different reason. Big surprise! Feel free to do what I did and go look up the facts. From my position, it seems pretty evident that if I showed you the research, you'd just find another reason to not change your stance, and then you'd expect me to go chasing something else down that you could have looked up for yourself.

      I don't think that it should be legal for somebody to come beat you up for what you say. You do.

      March 1, 2012 at 11:05 am |
    • MarcB

      No, Momoya, no one is changing their tune or their "side" all the "research" in the world is not going to show you proof of an assault, because if that existed, the athiest would have been found guilty, in accordance with the law.

      As for the judge lecturing: That is a _service to the public_ because he actually is one of the few judges left that gives a darn.
      You can't tell me that walking up to a Muslim(or Christian, or Jew, or ) and making jokes about their deity is smart. Just as it is not smart to walk up to a black guy and call him a N*, or to a Jewish person and call them a k* and so on.

      A good friend of mine has a *perfect* saying for this:
      "He didn't *deserve* the beating, but by God, he *asked for it*"

      Did the Muslim guy attack the athiest ? Probably, yeah: But according to the rules of law, which protect him AND YOU, there was no *proof* of it. Heck, if he was allowed to rule based on assumptions, I could walk up to you with a video camera, make some stupid remarks, then turn the camera and have a couple of buddies make fight noises, then claim those sounds were you attacking me.

      Do you see the slippery slope when you don't follow the rules of evidence and *proof* ?

      March 1, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • momoya

      The judge threw out evidence.
      The judge lectured the victim in a "you deserved to be r.a.ped for dressing like a s.l.ut" argument and discuss the religious laws of other nations.
      The issue is legality, not someone deserving to get beat up for saying something offensive.

      Here's the question I have for you:
      Do YOU see the slippery slope when you don't follow the rules of evidence and *proof* ?

      March 1, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
  11. Steve Lyons

    "P I S S _ M U H A M M A D" soon to go on sale on E-bay.....

    February 29, 2012 at 10:20 pm |
  12. yahmez the mad

    Freedom of speech is useless if it doesn't protect controversial or inflammatory speech. Ernie Perce has a valid point, Muslims are too quick to anger about their religion. If you cannot participate in a diverse culture of differing opinions, you do not belong in America. It is not okay to commit violence upon someone just because you disagree with them. If that were so, we would just beat the members of the Westboro Baptist Church to death and be done with them.
    If religions do not wish to be ridiculed, they should stop being ridiculous. Invisible men in the sky, who must not be mocked, indeed.

    February 29, 2012 at 10:19 pm |
  13. Salero 21

    Hey he's attacking me, he's attacking me, he's attacking me, he's attacking me, he's attacking me.

    But no witnesses, no evidence, the video does not show. A scuffle among 2 tards with no injuries. No proof has been presented of the muslim admitting to assault. The judge was right, no need to waste taxpayers money and time that the court could and should use for things more important than that. Case close. Claims was bogus, a cry baby case.

    Next case please!

    February 29, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
    • Salero 21

      Could have been a good show with Jerry Springer! 😉

      February 29, 2012 at 10:10 pm |
    • Justthefacts

      Funny thing is the defendant admitted to physical contact with the victim when questioned by the police at the scene then later recanted in court. His attourney did indicate that incedental contact may have been made but not intentional. The judge choose to beleive the testimony of the defendant over that of the police and the victim. Judge allowed irrelevant and improper lines of questioning during the trial and even joined in on lecturing the victim during the ruling. Most blatant case of judicial misconduct ive seen in quite a while. But hey you're proabbly not interested in any facts about the case are you.

      March 1, 2012 at 1:44 am |
  14. moymoy plaboy

    From momoya:

    "person who physically ASSAULT a person who was only SPEAKING."

    Hear it from the horse's mouth (wih matching ALL-CAPS..LOL!). It's the atheists way of "SPEAKING". It so natural for them to rant, bash and ridicule people who don't share their unbelief. They should be otherwise respected because they're just "SPEAKING"!

    Now, is anybody here still surprised by the way atheists connversing and behaving here and anywhere else?

    If somebody here are offended by atheist's arrogance, ridicule, mocking and sarcasm, please understand that they're just "SPEAKING". The way they're SPEAKING with their friends, relatives, parents, spouses and even with their kids.

    February 29, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
    • ArrogAtheists

      Yes, that's the way they are raised as a second/third-class minority.

      February 29, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
    • InsAtheists

      Now I know.

      February 29, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
    • Hammer

      Just right on the head!

      February 29, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
    • Nail

      OUCH!

      February 29, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
    • Salero 21

      Every time I press a key on the keyboard I'm attacking all atheists! I hope judge Martin sees my case in the preliminary hearing.

      February 29, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
    • momoya

      Fantastic work, here. No doubt about it. See my brand new post full of atheist nastiness!

      February 29, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
  15. Muneef

    http://xa.yimg.com/kq/groups/1106094/1099550210/name/Explanation_of_Soorat__Al-Kahf%2Epps

    February 29, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
  16. Muneef

    Observer.

    Orthodox Christians in Islamic countries have their own bibles in their own languages...they are the one's objecting to these new prints which are brought to convert Orthodox Christians and Muslims in to a foreign Christianity than their own of the land...
    Take as an example Egypt and Syria...

    February 29, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
  17. Salero 21

    The more comments, complaining and bellyaching that I read from atheists about this inconsequential incident, the more convinced I become the claims of Mr. Perce are bogus. Especially when the video at the begining appears to show there were dozens of people in the area. Still No witnesses came forward or were found to corroborate and support the charges. I don't find anywhere in the article or in the news clip anything that says the muslim man admitted to assaulting or attacking mr. Perce. Am I missing something here? Or is it that atheists want to win them all, all of the time and everywhere? And if they don't, then throw a tantrum!

    February 29, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
    • evolvedDNA

      Oh Are you asking for witnesses and evidence..just like you have for god..

      February 29, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
    • Salero 21

      Like I said! 😛

      February 29, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
  18. rara**

    For everyone saying the Muslim should have been guilty, you're an IDIOT. the judge found no evidence proving the man was guilty. As for the judge ranting about Islam, that's her own personal freedom. She wanted to share knowledge with the courtroom, and she did. SO BE IT. The atheist had no proof that he was attacked. End of story.

    February 29, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
    • momoya

      The jude threw out evidence. The judge ranted about law used in other countries. In his comments, the judge used a "she was asking to be r.a.ped wearing such clothes" type of reasoning to excuse the person who physically ASSAULT a person who was only SPEAKING. The judge should go to prison for those violations.

      I disagree that other people have the legal right to beat you up, rara**, when you say something that the person beating you found offensive. I don't think you should expect to get physically assaulted for mere words you say.

      February 29, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
    • rara**

      The judge threw out evidence..? you are ridiculous. forget WHY the person was attacked. He was attacked and had no proof. That's it. end of story.

      February 29, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
    • moymoy plaboy

      From momoya:

      "person who physically ASSAULT a person who was only SPEAKING."

      Hear it from the horses mouth (wih matching ALL-CAPS..LOL!). It's the atheists way of "SPEAKING". It so natural for them to rant, bash and ridicule people who don't share their unbelief. They should be otherwise respected because they just "SPEAKING".

      Now, anybody here are still surprised by the way atheists connversing and behaving here and anywhere else?

      February 29, 2012 at 9:33 pm |
    • moymoy plaboy

      *horse's

      February 29, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
    • momoya

      Yes, rara** the judge threw out evidence and there were witnesses. Do your research. I don't think people should have the right to beat you up for saying something offensive in their vicinity; I wish you felt the same way about me.

      February 29, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
  19. Judas

    When judges mess up like this, they need to do time. Period. It's illegal for me to be ignorant of a law... so it must be damn near treason to represent the law and not know what you are doing.

    Obviously our laws are too hard to understand, even for the people calling the shots, and need to be rewritten. Hell, if nothing else at least it will get rid of the need for lawyers and loopholes.

    February 29, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
    • rara**

      Wait...how did the judge mess up? The judge just spoke her mind. There was no evidence to prove that the atheist was attacked.

      February 29, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
    • TheMendicantBias

      Cool, so where's your law school degree? Judge Martin is a 27 year old combat veteran in the U.S. Military, and you're some idiot ranting about something you know NOTHING about in your mother's basement.

      There was no evidence of the assault, period. As far as the Judge knew, the muslim dude told the guy to take off his costume, and then walked away.

      February 29, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
    • Ishmael

      Very well stated, Judas. I agree completely. Judges need to be held accountable, just as citizens are held accountable. Plus, I'm sure he knows what he did was not fair, all the more reason for a stiffer sentence.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:55 am |
  20. Michael

    The judge felt there was enough evidence to feel that the victim brought it upon himself. Did the person charge deny he attacked the victim? Did the accused lawyer not say that he was provoked? Does that not count as an admission? Did the Judge mention that under some laws in Muslim nations you can kill a christian non believer....etc? The judge can not escape that he is biased.

    February 29, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.