The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution defends and protects several natural rights of Americans, and anyone within our borders. Two of those natural rights, rights we have by virtue of being free-born human beings, include the right of free speech and the right to free exercise of religion. Religious freedom protects non-believers as well as believers. It protects the right to be an atheist as well as the right to be a Baptist or a Muslim, and to practice and believe what your conscience tells you so long as you don’t interfere with anyone else’s right to do the same.
Neither the right of free speech nor religious liberty protects any imagined right to be thin skinned. In fact, it protects the right to be offensive, obnoxious and insulting to other people’s religions. The real test of the right of free speech comes in the face of offensive speech we don’t like. Offensive ideas cannot be put up against a wall and shot. The remedy for offensive speech in more speech pointing out how and why it is offensive, and why good people should reject it.
OK, that’s the legislative part of the law. As F.A. Hayek points out in his magnum opus Law, Liberty and Legislation, there is a difference between legislation, and “law,” at least law in the sense of customs and common practices and beliefs in how one should conduct oneself in polite society. The law of a parking space is that if someone else is in the process of backing into a parking space you should not quickly pull in behind them and take the space. You would be socially ostracized for doing so. It’s the custom to allow the one who was there first and claimed the space to have it. If you break this custom you will be a jerk. But unless your action can be called reckless or careless, you will not be a lawbreaker. In fact, if the one who had claimed the space jumps out of his car and punches you in the nose, he will be a lawbreaker and subject to prosecution.
To mock and criticize someone’s else’s religion is generally not acceptable by custom, but it also is not illegal. In fact, the custom is getting weaker all the time. At least if the victim of ridicule happens to be Christian. Members of the Christian faith are constantly mocked and ridiculed in the liberal elite media and in other elite liberal circles on a regular basis. You can say just about anything you want about Christians these days and few peopel will object. Christians themselves rarely if ever retaliate, and almost never resort to violence against their tormenters.
Muslims, on the other hand, are extremely thin skinned. They will not tolerate the slightest criticism or mockery of Islam. So when an atheist in Mechanicsburg, Pennslyvania was attacked and assaulted by a Muslim for his admittedly obnoxious and offensive mockery of Islam, what do you suppose happened when the police were called?
The police officer did the right thing. The police officer did his job. He arrested the Muslim man who assaulted the atheist. Assault is against the law. Being an offensive jerk is not.
But things got dicey when it went to court. What happened in court shows a disturbing trend in America, where courts are not courts and judges are not judges. Instead, courts are becoming arenas of partisan politics presided over by ideologues masquerading as judges. The judge refused to go by the law and instead decided the case on his own personal prejudices. As this becomes common, no one can know in advance what “law” will be applied to his case. If the unknown prejudices of the judge will decide the case no one can know in advance how to conduct himself so as to be within the “law.” See the video: