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Dershowitz: First Amendment Protects Muhammad Cartoons

By    |   Wednesday, 06 May 2015 08:40 PM

A Texas event that lampooned the Prophet Muhammad and was attacked by Islamist gunmen did not forfeit its First Amendment protection just because it triggered a violent response, says lawyer and legal scholar Alan Dershowitz.

"I don't think there's a constitutional scholar in the United States who would tell you that what [event organizer] Pamela Geller did, whatever you may think of it, is not protected speech," Dershowitz told "MidPoint" host Ed Berliner on Newsmax TV on Wednesday.

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Whether Geller was wise to stage a contest on Sunday near Dallas offering cash for cartoons of the prophet is another issue, he said, noting that some Muslims who consider any depiction of Muhammad to be an offense are using violence, or the threat of it, to stop critical discussions of Islam.

But legally speaking, he said, the organizers of "Draw Muhammad" had as much right to voice their opinions as anyone else with views people consider offensive — a category he said includes religious figures who give anti-Semitic sermons or neo-Nazis who insist on marching in Jewish communities.

"How is it different from imams preaching hatred against Jews in mosques?" said Dershowitz. "How is it different from [Nation of Islam leader Louis] Farrakhan? Every day he made speeches like this, caricaturing Jews. How is it different from so many other provocations?

"Without comparing Geller to the great Martin Luther King, Martin Luther King deliberately picked the cities he was going to march in in order to provoke violence," said Dershowitz, referring to the civil rights leader's epic confrontations with police in the segregated South.

"Clearly the Constitution requires that you protect the speaker and the marcher, and you go after those who claim to be provoked," said Dershowitz, adding, "You don't need a Pamela Geller to provoke radical extremist Muslims. Look at Salman Rushdie: he just writes a book and he has a fatwa put on him."

Organizers promise more events like Sunday's in Garland, Texas, which ended with a security officer fatally shooting both gunmen before they could get inside the exhibition hall. Dershowitz said courts would rule against any municipality that tried to block Geller on public safety grounds.

He said the "shouting fire in a crowded theater" analogy doesn't apply to Geller's actions because the cutoff for free speech is not the possibility of violence based on somebody's feeling provoked, but direct incitement of violence by a speaker.

"If I get up in front of a group of people and give them the name and address of somebody and say, go to that person's house and lynch him, that's not protected speech," he said. "But if I stand up in front of a crowd knowing that they will not like what I say . . . they surely should not have the power to veto my speech and censor it."

"That would mark the end of free speech if we didn't allow the Pamela Gellers of the world to provoke people like the two people who tried to shoot and kill her," said Dershowitz.

He was skeptical of the idea that Geller is helpfully drawing out violent Islamic extremists, suggesting that the task of catching terrorists is one for law enforcement, not a political activist with no background in public safety or criminal investigation.

"I don't think we want Pamela Geller conducting First Amendment stings for us," he said.

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A Texas event that lampooned the Prophet Muhammad and was attacked by Islamist gunmen did not forfeit its First Amendment protection just because it triggered a violent response, says lawyer and legal scholar Alan Dershowitz.
Alan Dershowitz, Muhammad, cartoon, First Amendment
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2015-40-06
Wednesday, 06 May 2015 08:40 PM
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