- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 5, 2012

DETROIT — A federal judge in Michigan on Thursday cleared the way for Koran-burning pastor Terry Jones to lead a protest in front of the nation’s largest mosque this weekend, saying efforts by officials in Dearborn, Mich., to essentially force organizers to guarantee the rally would be peaceful were unconstitutional.

Mr. Jones and his associate pastor, Wayne Sapp, had filed a federal lawsuit earlier this week against the city for violating their free speech and assembly rights. The city, with its large Arab-American population, had requested that the Florida-based ministers sign a “hold harmless” agreement that would release the city of liability should the protest near the Islamic Center of America result in injury or property damage.

U.S. District Judge Denise Page Hood granted their motion for an emergency temporary restraining order, and the city has dropped its request. The ministers who lead the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., however, have no plans to drop their lawsuit, their attorneys said.

“Dearborn has a history of discriminating against Christians who want to speak out against the internal threat of Shariah law and Islam. And every time the city attempts to curtail the constitutional rights of Christians, we will confront them in a court of law,” Richard Thompson, an attorney who serves as president of the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., said in a statement.

A city spokeswoman had defended the “hold harmless” demand earlier this week, citing safety concerns as the mosque was located in a high-traffic area.

Mr. Jones’s Stand Up America Now organization has been an outspoken critic of what the pastor says is the influx of Islamic-based Shariah law in the United States. The group’s public burning of a Koran last year drew outrage from Muslims worldwide.

The group’s public protests, including the planned Dearborn demonstration, have drawn support from free-speech advocates who, while not endorsing Mr. Jones‘ message, have said creating roadblocks to the protests is unconstitutional.

“For quite a while now we have as an institution been concerned about the wave of anti-Muslim sentiment, but the response is not to impinge on a person’s right to protest, even when speech is distasteful and offensive,” said Rana Elmir, communications director for the American Civil Liberties Union-Michigan, which was not a party to the case.

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