Florida preacher Terry Jones, who recently gained notoriety for burning a Quran, is challenging a Dearborn, Mich., jury verdict and court order that prevented him from staging a protest outside a mosque because he was likely to breach the peace.
Jones asserts the ruling is a prior restraint on his First Amendment rights and plans to file an appeal as soon as the court releases a case number and identifies whether the judgment is a civil or criminal case, his attorney said.
Jones and his associate Wayne Sapp planned a protest outside the Islamic Center of America, located in Dearborn, a Detroit suburb with a large Muslim population. On April 15, prosecutors filed suit to block their actions, claiming it could draw thousands of counter-demonstrators and lead to violence and traffic problems.
Jones and Sapp were tried on Friday under an 1846 Michigan law that requires those likely to breach the peace to post peace bonds. While prosecutors sought $45,000 in bond, Judge Mark Somers of Dearborn's 19th District Court set the amount at $1 and barred the men from going near the Islamic Center for three years. Both men were placed under arrest after refusing to pay the bond. The Associated Press reported that they later paid the amount.
Although Jones represented himself during Friday's trial, he has since hired the Christian public interest firm Thomas More Law Center. Richard Thompson, chief counsel of Thomas More Law Center, said the crux of the case was "that an American citizen was thrown in jail not because he committed any kind of crime, but because of his desire to make a public speech on public property."
Thompson pointed out that because the police chief admitted during trial that "he had no evidence at all that Pastor Jones was going to burn the Quran or cause some kind of riot," the government would be instituting a "heckler's veto" if they were able to suspend the right to free speech because it might make someone angry.
Thompson also noted how "this whole trial was kind of farcical" because the "purpose of the peace bond was to pay for police services that would be required to control the crowd should Pastor Jones speak." The judge decided to lower the bond amount to $1 because he "realized that this whole trial was wrong and was trying to soften the impact of it," Thompson said.
Jones became well-known after he threatened to burn the Quran last year at his tiny fundamentalist church in Gainesville, Fla. Last month, Jones and Sapp videotaped the burning of the Islamic holy book and posted it on the church's website. The move reportedly ignited violent protests and deaths in Afghanistan.