I have a very visceral reaction to Terry Jones. He’s the Florida “pastor” who presided over the immolation of a copy of the Koran? He makes me grind my teeth. He makes me snarl at the TV. He makes me say words my children prefer their toddlers didn’t learn. So when Jones announced he was going to come to neighboring Dearborn to protest “Jihad and Sharia Law”, my reaction was not fit to print.
The Detroit area has a lot of problems these days. GM and Chrysler bankrupt. Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, sent to prison for corruption. Remember the idiot with the bomb in his Fruit of the Looms? He was headed here. We are home to the Detroit Lions, enough said? Yes, we have our share of problems, but the Sharia loving jihadist Muslims hiding among us is not one of them.
I do not want the Terry Jones’ Light My Fire Road Show here. I don’t want him insulting my friends and neighbors. I sincerely fear he will cause more violence around the world. But here’s my problem; I’m a First Amendment absolutist. I have always believed that the answer to hate speech was more speech. I was staunchly against “free speech zones” when George Bush had them, I can’t suddenly support them in Dearborn, Michigan. So when the Wayne County Prosecutor found some little used criminal statute from the 1800s to accuse Jones and his sidekick Wayne “the torch” Sapp, of seeking to “breach the peace”, it felt like an overreach. It gave me an uneasy feeling akin to accepting change from a $20 bill when you only gave the clerk a $10, or maybe acing a test you cheated on.
I have given a lot of thought to the rights of a peaceful community to be without an outside agitator like Jones versus the right of every citizen to hold forth unpopular views. I have struggled with it. I do not want the government to be able to criminalize hurtful words equally as much as I do not want Terry Jones to come here speaking them. Then, as I watched the criminal trial accusing Jones and Sapp of intending to breach the peace, the answer dawned. It was a false choice all along. There was a better solution; an elegant solution. I just wish the prosecutor had seen it.
In his opening remarks, the prosecutor said he would prove that Terry Jones and Wayne Sapp should not be allowed to hold their protest at the Dearborn Mosque because they were a “danger to themselves and others”. During the trial, he did just that, very succinctly. He showed video from the protests in Afghanistan, where rioters seeking revenge for Jones burning of a Qur’an killed 20 UN workers. Then he showed newscast footage of Jones saying he didn’t think he had any blame for those deaths. He offered into evidence a half-inch stack of death threats against Jones, compiled by Homeland Security and the FBI, and then evidence of Jones saying he was not worried about them. He told the jury about how Jones, just the night before, had accidentally discharged the gun he carries. Then he showed video of Jones and Sapp both saying they would hold their protest no matter what the court decided, and that they were willing to die in that cause.
That’s when it hit me. The evidence the prosecutor presented didn’t belong in a criminal court. Criminal courts are for events that have already happened, and the charges in Jones’ trial asked the jury to intuit what might happen in the future. However, that same evidence was tailor made for a civil commitment hearing, because in Michigan, being a “danger to yourself and others” is enough to place an immediate two day psychiatric hold on Jones, and require him to prove to a court he is sane before being let out.
If you spend a little time following the ripples of what a sanity hearing would have unleashed for all concerned, you’ll see why I think it would have been what scientists call an “elegant solution”.
First, and most importantly, Jones might have gotten some help with his xenophobia and paranoia. Even if he were eventually found sane, what harm could come of having him talk to some mental health professionals?
Next, imagine how different the optics of Jones defending his sanity would have been from Jones the First Amendment Martyr. He couldn’t wrap himself in the Constitution at a sanity hearing; he’d be forced to speak to his peculiarities in order for the judge to assess his danger to society.
I heard this morning that Jones has found a lawyer to file what I’m sure will be a very expensive Federal lawsuit charging his First Amendment rights were violated. A civil commitment hearing would not have provided this opportunity. This lawsuit will no doubt give Jones a higher profile. More press. More airtime for his views. A commitment suit would have done just the opposite.
A judgement for civil commitment, after the two day hold, would also forever prohibit Jones’ ability to carry his loaded gun to his jihad protests, at least here in Michigan.
But perhaps the best results of a civil commitment suit would have been the message it sent to the Muslims of the world, especially in Afghanistan where Jone’s insult to the Qur’an has put our soldiers at greater risk. Can you imagine the conversation? “Did you see what the Americans did to the Qur’an burner? They threw him in a loony bin. He’s batshit crazy!” Everybody laughs. No one dies.
Of course, that didn’t happen. Terry Jones and Wayne Sapp are coming back to Dearborn on Friday to protest the violation of their First Amendment Rights loaded guns on their hips. A Federal lawsuit will take this story nationally into another year. Jones, with a possibly treatable psychosis, goes undiagnosed and untreated. And we wait to see who dies next.