A storm of controversy has erupted over the ruling of a Pennsylvania judge to dismiss a case against a Muslim man accused last October of attacking an atheist who marched as "Zombie Muhammad" in a local Halloween parade.
Citing a lack of admissible evidence, Cumberland County Magisterial District Judge Mark Martin dismissed harassment charges against Talaag Elbayomy, a muslim immigrant who was recorded in a grainy video last October physically engaging another man, Ernest Perce V, during the Oct. 11 parade in Mechanicsburg, Pa.
Perce, a member of the "Parading Atheists of Central PA," filed a complaint with police alleging that Elbayomy attacked him during the parade and inflicted bodily harm, according to the Harrisburg Patriot-News.
"He grabbed me, choked from the back, spun me around to try to get [my "Muhammad of Islam" sign] off that was wrapped around my neck," Perce told ABC 27 News.
Elbayomy in turn filed a complaint with police alleging that Perce instigated the attacks and told courts that he never touched him during the argument. But the officer who took the pair's complaints, Sgt. Brian Curtis, told ABC 27 that Elbayomy admitted at the scene to grabbing Perce's sign and pulling his fake beard, which led Curtis to charge him with harassment.
Saying that the case represents one man's word against the other and that the video is inadmissible, Judge Martin threw out the charge against Elbayomy, Fox News reports.
But in announcing his ruling, Martin also made remarks that have led a number of organizations to accuse him of bringing religion into the courtroom.
Writing for American Atheists, Al Stefanelli said he was particularly concerned with portions of Martin's remarks where he "offers a lesson on Islam."
According to a transcribed audio recording of Martin's remarks posted to YouTube by Perce, which was later re-transcribed for clarity by the National Review Online, the judge told Perce that "what you have done is you have completely trashed their essence, their being. They find it very very very offensive."
Judge Martin continued:
If I were a Muslim, I'd find it offensive. But you have that right, but you're way outside your boundaries or first amendment rights. This is what, and I said I spent about 7 and a half years living in other countries. when we go to other countries it's not uncommon for people to refer to us as ugly Americans this is why we are referred to as ugly Americans, because we are so concerned about our own rights we don't care about other people's rights as long as we get our say but we don't care about the other people's say.
Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, wrote that wherever Martin's religious leanings may fall, the greater issue is that "his legal views seem grotesquely out of place."
"There are legitimate uses of the culture defense. However, when it comes to free speech, that is not just our controlling constitutional right but the touchstone of our culture," Turley wrote. "... I view this as an extremely troubling case that raises serious questions of judicial temperament, if not misconduct."
Since the controversial ruling was handed down, Perce says he has received hundreds of death threats.
“People have said that they would kill me, rip my eyes out, run me over, shoot me and then laugh at me, since I have blasphemed Muhammad,” Perce told The Daily Caller. “They say I will be found out and hung in front of my family.”