PENNSYLVANIA - A US judge has defended his decision to throw out a case against a Muslim man accused of accosting an atheist dressed as a zombie version of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him) in a Halloween parade.
With rights come responsibilities, Judge Mark Martin told CNN on Tuesday, February 28.
The more people abuse our rights, the more likely that we're going to lose them.
The judge dismissed in December a case against a Muslim man, who confronted an atheist for wearing a zombie version of the prophet.
A YouTube video showed the atheist wearing a long fake beard, a white turban and green face paint, calling out provocative phrases like I am the prophet Muhammad! Zombie from the dead!
The video also showed another man in a zombie-themed pope costume carrying a banner that reads "The Parading Atheists of Central Pennsylvania / Ghoulish - Godless - God-Awful."
The Muslim man is then heard in the footage saying Take it down, amid sounds of a scuffle.
The atheist filed a case accusing the Muslim man of assault, but the judge rejected the case, saying it was one person's word against another's.
The judge also criticized the atheist man for hurting Muslim sensitivities by wearing a zombie version of the prophet.
You have that right, but you're way outside your bounds of First Amendment rights," Martin said, according to a recording posted the atheist man of the court hearing.
I think our forefathers intended that we use the First Amendment so that we can speak our mind, not to piss off other people and other cultures, which is what you did.
Critics accuse the judge of violating the principles of freedom of expression by throwing out the case.
"That's greatly disturbing to people that believe in free speech," said George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley.
"You can say things that are hurtful to others. We hope that you don't, but you most certainly can be protected.
Former terrorism prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy, writing on his blog, accused the judge of allowing the Muslim man to invoke a Shari`ah defense - what he claimed was his obligation to strike out against any insult against the prophet Muhammad."
But the judge ridiculed the accusations.
We need to start policing up our own actions, using common sense, in how we deal with others," the judge told CNN.
Dismissing claims that he was a Muslim, the judge, an army veteran, said the freedom of speech does not mean insulting religious sensitivities.
"The commonwealth didn't present enough evidence to show me that this person is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt," Martin said.
"That's why I dismissed the case. Nothing as nefarious as what everyone's thinking, that I'm a Muslim or I'm biased. I'm actually a Lutheran."
The judge, who served three tours of duty, totaling more than two years, in Iraq and Afghanistan, said he understands Muslim religious sensitivities.
"It just amazes me that people think that I'm biased towards Islam," he said.
"I got sniped at once, I got ambushed once, I got attacked by a mob once... I've served close to 27 years in the military - and have gone overseas - exactly to preserve that right [freedom of speech.]
Attorney R. Mark Thomas, who represented the Muslim man, blamed the atheist for the Halloween altercation."The so-called victim was the antagonist," he told WHTM. "I think this was a good dressing down by the judge."