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."

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- CNN Belief Blog

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

soundoff (2,453 Responses)
  1. Iqbal Khan


    March 15, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
  2. Just sayin

    I read that his honor? M.W. Martin claims that because of being an immigrant, the attacker does not have to abide by our laws. May I remind his honor? that we are all immigrants in this country, unless you happen to be a Native American.

    March 7, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
  3. Iqbal Khan


    March 6, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
  4. Iqbal Khan

    "Rights with responsiblity"
    If some crackhead say whatever he want.
    Then he lost his his right of freedom of speach as he is causing disturbance and creating an atmosphere on unrest and making sensitive, emotional people mad.
    Now I am sure 99% of the people will get mad even loose temper and ready to fight if somebody say a four letter word for his or her mother like...
    mo _ _ _ r f_ _ _ _ r or for your wife or sister
    Muslims love all prophets and they love prophet Muhammad peace be upon him more then their own mother , parents or other family members so they can not tolerate any kind of insult for their beloved prophet, non muslims have no idea of this love, muslims feel the same way for all the other prophets and they want respect for all of the prophets.

    March 6, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
  5. jose


    March 6, 2012 at 9:13 am |
    • Iqbal Khan

      You watch the

      March 6, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
  6. Effron

    A wife supposedly calls her husband a 'Loser'. The husband gets angry and smacks her across her face.
    Police report is filed and the husband admits to the officer he hit his wife.

    Case goes to court . Judge says there is no evidence.

    Judge tells the WIFE freedom of speech comes with a responsibility and that in some other countries the husband would have done far worse and then thunders did you get it?

    March 4, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
    • reason

      Very good analogy.

      Unfortunately I am not surprised by the number of Christians here cheering on violence and injustice.

      March 6, 2012 at 10:36 am |
  7. Rainy

    Two points made by the judge.
    There was no evidence that a crime was committed. Just cause someone says something was done doesn't make it true.
    The judge then made a second comment that amounts to – you have the right to say whatever you want but sometimes the payback can get messy for you.
    Good call by the judge.

    March 4, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
    • Larry

      So if your bigger than I had better keep my mouth shut or there will be payback.You can beat me to make me be silent.So might is right if your the bigger bully you win.Real good

      March 5, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • reason

      There was plenty of evidence, the perp admitted what he did to a police officer!

      Rationalizing violence as being acceptable "payback" for expressing an opinion is disgusting. Like you, the judge was obviously out of line, ignorant and biased.

      Fortunately for you the founding fathers were far more intelligent than yourself and this moron judge so you can feel safe making your disgusting comments without fear of violent retribution.

      March 24, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
  8. Abdel

    That judge/traitor is toast. A few months and he will be history. Mark my words.

    March 4, 2012 at 3:52 am |
  9. Iqbal khan

    "Rights with responsiblity"
    If some crackhead say whatever he want.
    Then he lost his his right of freedom of speach as he is causing disturbance,
    And he should be ready to face the negetive consiquences, period.

    March 3, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
    • AGuest9

      Posts like this have Tom Paine twirling in his grave.

      March 3, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
    • Larry

      Freedom of speech allows you to create disturbances.So do protest.Thats why both are protected

      March 5, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
  10. reason

    HeIsGod, you do not make sense. Where did Anon claim to not insult people? If he did then he would be a hypocrite for doing so, but he has not.

    March 2, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
  11. reason

    It is not surprising that so many Christians would rationalize assaulting someone because of something that he said. Ghandi said it best, I like your Christ but I do not like your Christians.

    March 2, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
    • Jim

      u said-'would rationalize assaulting someone' yes that is what the judge did in this case and you want to rationalize assaulting someone for saying something?

      'An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind'
      Mahatma Gandhi

      You muslims should learn from Gandhi. 😉

      March 2, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
    • reason

      Thank you Jim. It is disgusting anyone would rationalize physically hurting someone over expressing differing opinions. This judge is extremely misguided as is the Muslim attacker as are the Christians here who are cheerleaders of violence.

      Based Christians' words it would seem as though they have never even heard of Christ's teachings. That he spread a message of love, to love thy neighbor and to even love thy enemy.

      March 2, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
    • Larry

      He also so said Christianity is a good idea,someone should try it sometime.

      March 5, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
  12. Innocent

    His ruling has nothing to do with religion. It's about taking one man's word over anothers. The Atheists said he was assaulted by the Mustlim and the muslim said he didn't do it. There was no other evidence introduced. There was still a reasonable doubt.

    March 2, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
    • reason

      There were witnesses as seen in the video, it was a parade! The attacker admitted assaulting him, to a police officer! The judge actually called the VICTIM a dufus. Martin is biased towards religion and he should be ashamed of this abortion of justice.

      Judge Martin should be disbarred.

      March 2, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
  13. HeIsGod

    Why is it when there an article about Christians, Jews, or Muslims, you HYPOCRITE Atheists jump all over the articles bashing and spewing your vicious hate like snakes, but when there is an article about you, you get too offended when we point out the truth about you?

    How funny it is when there is an unbeliever that commits a crime, you Atheists want to forcefully convert the criminal into Christians with your closed & twisted mind? You people are so closed minded, no wonder Satan has a total control over your lives! How dare you HYPOCRITES point your fingers when you were also at one point in your life in the will of God, but decided to back-slide into your sinful ways and chose darkness over the very Light, Jesus Christ, who could have set you free. You HYPOCRITES has chosen death over life, curses over blessing.....AND NOW, you are angry at us who refuse to be lead into the darkness & be closed minded like you!



    March 2, 2012 at 11:45 am |
    • Anon

      Ram a bible up your @$$.

      March 2, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
    • HeIsGod


      March 2, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • reason

      So HeIsGod, what you wrote is offensive to many people, you must then be ok with people assaulting YOU because they do not like what you say.

      If not then you are a hypocrite.

      March 2, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • I Don't Get It


      How does @Anon's post, albeit nasty, prove that he/she is a hypocrite?

      March 2, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • Muhammad's Word

      HeIsGod you are a closed minded infidel with a twisted mind, bashing others by spewing your vicious hate like a snake. No wonder the great Satan has total control over your life. How dare you, you hypocrite, for turning your back to the one true god, Allah, who could have set you free. You have chosen death over life, curses over blessing. Now you are angry at the world for refusing to be lead into your infidel darkness and be closed minded like you!

      Allah have mercy on HeIsGod and bring him back to you through the teachings of Muhammad. Allah Ackbard!!

      March 2, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      @ reason – And who are the many "people"? Atheists? If that is the case, let the truth cut within the heart, mind, and spirit of each one of them.

      As I said before, reason, how funny it is when it's about an Atheist, you turn the blind eyes.....this Atheist reaped what he sowed and he sowed in bad ground.

      March 2, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      I Don't Get It – Just look at how is insulting me.....my point of he hate was clear.

      March 2, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      Muhammad's Word – First of all, I am not even a Muslim, but a Christian, so don't even try to lecture me about your fake god that has lead many Muslim into the path of self-destruction and hell.

      Allah = Satan

      May you allow Jesus Christ, the SON of God, Jehovah, set you free from the bondage of religion that has lead you to astray from the teachings of Jesus Christ to follow that false prophet, Muhammad.

      March 2, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • Jesus Loves You

      So then you should have no problem with atheists physically assaulting you because you offend them.

      If you would, you are a hypocrite.

      March 2, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • Muhammad's Word

      HeIsGod – I am not Christian so do not lecture me about your fake god that has lead many Christians into the path of self-destruction and hell.

      Your god = Satan

      May you allow Allah, the one true god, set you free from the bondage of religion that has lead you astray from the teachings of Allah to follow that false prophet Jesus.

      March 2, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
    • reason

      Muhammad makes a good point. You can just swap religious terms like Allah for Jesus, Muslim for Christian, and you get the exact same statement just from the other religion's viewpoint. It is almost as if it is all the same.

      If you reject reason to explain the world you are left with nothing but blind faith. But whose faith is right? Every religion dismisses every other religion as being nothing more than another ancient society's attempt to explain the world.

      Could it possibly be that is the case of EVERY religion? That the religion you and I were born into, that the majority of the world also thinks is false, is no exception?

      There is nothing to be gained by indulging in religious delusion – it changes nothing. We can however make the world a better place by being rational and honest.

      March 2, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
    • Larry

      God bring me back?I want nothing to do with you or your god.Open wide where fixing to shove our agenda down your throat until you swallow or choke to death on it.We are going to do it the christian way by forcing you to except our agenda by making our wants and wishes LAW

      March 5, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
  14. Cameron

    So I see that apparently it's ok to beat on people, as long as the reason is they insulted your mythology.

    March 1, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
  15. Muneef

    Blasphemy is not an accepted issue to Muslims whether it targeted GOD or Angles or Holy Book or Prophets...

    March 1, 2012 at 8:10 pm |
    • evolvedDNA

      Muneef.. which is why the world is such a mess. until all of humanity out grows its need for a daddy figure there will be no peace... your words have said it all.. I hope that the more intelligent within the religious community will see the dangers of ignorance and will reverse the tide.

      March 1, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
    • Muneef

      Dear Friend... If humans made that mess why should we blasphemies GOD for it....?

      March 2, 2012 at 7:13 am |
    • HawaiiGuest

      And why should that justify an assault Muneef? Awwww he got his poor widdle feewings hurt. Well too dam* bad that doesn't give him the right to physically assault someone. Hey Muneef if I blaspheme against your god are you gonna come and try to kick my a**?

      March 2, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
    • Muneef

      You speak as I have a GOD of my own or that Muslims got a GOD of their own...!?? When I say GOD it means GOD the Creator of the whole universe...as there is only One GOD of the whole nations whether they like it and accept it or not...!?
      Guess only Pagans have created their own handmade GOD's but as an Abrahamic we worship unseen GOD the GOD of Abraham and the GOD of all Prophets before him and after him....!!
      Again if you blaspheme any thing of the pagons that to them resambles GOD then that is like if you blaspheme against the Only GOD the Creator of this whole universe and what it contains....! Got the whole idea now?

      March 3, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
  16. Joe Gets

    Does freedom of speech have limits? How about yelling "fire" in a packed cinema? I hope you'll say it's wrong to do that. Well, that's my point. We need to use freedom of speech so as not to hurt somone else especially religious feeling since people have such strong views on it.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
  17. SlaveWorld

    Who is Muhammad and why should we care?

    March 1, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
  18. JayB

    This has absolutely nothing to do with religion. These pieces of garbage wore costumes that were meant to insite hate and violence. What would the "free speech" crowd be saying if two guys were beat up because they dressed like Klansmen and where shouting racial slurs?

    If you look to needlessly insight hate and then happen to get beat up because of it, you really shouldn't be supprised. At some point people must start taking personal responsibility for their actions. There's a difference between free speech and insighting hate.

    March 1, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • Mike

      Right on JB. People seem to confuse free speech with freedom to say whatever without consequences.

      March 2, 2012 at 6:25 am |
  19. Truth Seeker

    I read a book the other day that suggested that America would be a muslim country by the year 2028. Seeing the way things are going just over the past few years I tend to agree with this theory. I'm not sure of the new American etiqutte is. Am I supposed to say that I am sorry to the muslim community for this post? It seems like we have to be sorry to them for everything else we do now days.

    March 1, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • Proud Muslim

      Well, you'd beta believe it. The truth cannot be hidden.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
    • Proud Muslim


      March 1, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • Salero 21

      Although that's the generally accepted idea, in a strict and more accurate sense of the word. America is a Continent not a country. The Official Name of this Country, commonly but erroneously called America is: The United States of America. Regards!

      March 1, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
    • Lu

      They've gotta do a better job than the Christians are doing.

      March 2, 2012 at 7:27 am |
  20. Truth Seeker

    Why is it that the only rights to free speech that are not protected lately are when something is said against muslims and gays? Even when what is spoken is proven to be true. For instance, choosing to be gay is as much a choice as somone choosing to get an abortion. They say that they have found a "Gay gene" my bet is that if the researchers actually took the time to look, or care, they'd find a murdering gene, and an infidelity gene, and a beasteality gene as well. If being gay is predispositioned then all of these are too.

    March 1, 2012 at 12:27 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.