Court Rules That Criticism of Islam is Still Legal in the U.S. (For Now)

AP Photo/Alex Brandon

You may recall Nicholas Damask. He is the Scottsdale Community College (SCC) professor about whom I wrote here at PJ Media several weeks ago when Muslim students threatened his life for observing that Islam teaches violence. After that, instead of rebuking the Muslims who threatened Damask, the Hamas-linked Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) filed suit against the college for daring to teach unpopular and unwelcome truths about Islam and terrorism.

This morning, in a rare victory for the battered and bruised principle of the freedom of speech, Judge Susan M. Brnovich of the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona ruled that we’re not quite under Sharia blasphemy laws yet and that academics were perfectly free to criticize Islam, if there are still any besides Damask who dare to do so.

In Sabra v. Maricopa County Comm. College Dist., Brnovich observed that “this case tests the limits of the First Amendment’s Religion Clauses.” Indeed so, for as Brnovich noted, “plaintiffs allege his instruction unconstitutionally ‘conclude[es] that Islam “mandates” terrorism and the killing of Non-Muslims, and that this is the only interpretation of religious texts, but without any disclaimer to inform students that this is one-perspective and that Islam itself does not condone terrorism.’ They further allege that Dr. Damask ‘is not teaching that only some extremists espouse these beliefs, but rather that literally, Islam itself teaches the mandates of terrorism.’”

“Unconstitutionally”? Where exactly does the Constitution prohibit concluding that Islam mandates terrorism? This is a ridiculous proposition, but in an environment in which the nation’s highest judges have discovered a right to abortion and same-sex marriage in the Constitution, the right judge is liable to find anything, anything at all, in the old document, and so Hamas-linked CAIR apparently figured this suit was worth a try.

But it came down ultimately to Sharia blasphemy law. Islamic law forbids criticism of Islam, on pain of death, and the plaintiffs in Sabra v. Maricopa County Comm. College Dist. were above all enraged because, they claimed, “[t]he only objectively reasonable construction of [Dr.] Damask’s actions is that his primary message is the disapproval of Islam.”

It is much more likely that Damask merely wanted to illuminate the ideological roots of contemporary jihad terrorism, but even if his primary message really was “the disapproval of Islam,” so what? There are legions of professors all over the country whose primary message is the disapproval of Christianity. No one complains, no one files suit, because in that context everyone understands the parameters of the freedom of speech.

And it was those parameters, however forgotten or misunderstood, that Brnovich invoked in her ruling. “The Religion Clauses of the First Amendment,” she wrote, “provide that ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.’” This includes not only government approval of religion, but its disapproval of or hostility toward religion.” And while “the Free Exercise Clause, which applies to the States under the Fourteenth Amendment, ‘protects religious observers against unequal treatment’ and against ‘laws that impose special disabilities on the basis of religious status,’” Brnovich affirms that “curriculum that merely conflicts with a student’s religious beliefs does not violate the Free Exercise Clause.”

This is a victory for common sense and the freedom of speech, and a setback to Hamas-linked CAIR and all the other organizations who are trying to intimidate the West into accepting Sharia blasphemy laws, notably the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which has been working for years at the United Nations to intimidate Western countries into adopting Sharia restrictions on speech in the guise of restrictions on “hate speech.”

It is not, however, a huge defeat for these forces, either. They’ll keep trying to destroy the freedom of speech and force Sharia blasphemy laws in the West. And as a campaign of intimidation, this whole episode has already served a great deal of its purpose. It has blackened the reputation of Nicholas Damask and of Scottsdale Community College, and made college and university administrators nervous that teaching that is critical of Islam, even accurate teaching about jihad violence and Sharia oppression, will get them embroiled in costly and time-consuming court battles. Better to leave the subject alone, or praise Islam fulsomely. Mission accomplished.

Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. He is author of 21 books, including the New York Times bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book is Rating America’s Presidents: An America-First Look at Who Is Best, Who Is Overrated, and Who Was An Absolute Disaster. Follow him on Twitter here. Like him on Facebook here.


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