It's Official: There's a Muslim Exemption to the First Amendment
Mehanna, a 29-year-old pharmacist from Sudbury, Massachusetts, emailed friends, downloaded videos, translated and posted documents on the web, and traveled to and from Yemen in 2004.
No evidence was presented in court directly linking him to a terrorist group. He never hatched a plot – indeed, he objected when a friend (who went on to become a government informer and has never been charged with anything) proposed plans to stage violent attacks within the United States. He never had a weapon. He did lie to the FBI. And he has just been sentenced by US District Court Judge George O’Toole to 17.5 years in a supermax prison on various material support to terrorism charges.
Over 220 of Mehanna’s supporters in an overflow room watched on a screen as prosecutor Aloke Chakravarty in his pre-sentencing remarks stressed the “gravity” of Mehanna’s offenses. Over a decade ago, he claimed, “this defendant began to radicalize” and to radicalize others to “visit violence” on Americans. Although he failed in his efforts to find a terrorist training camp when he visited Yemen in 2004, he found his niche, the prosecutor stated, serving as the “media wing” of al Qaeda, translating documents, and sharing videos.
“The impact of the harms created through that work is huge,” Chakravarty asserted. “We don’t know how many have been radicalized…people around the world are consuming his work…The damage he has done will linger.”
The prosecutor went on at length about Mehanna’s “reticence to assist the government” - that is, become an informant. He maintained that nothing is wrong with soliciting cooperation if it is necessary to keep the country safe.
Defense attorney Jay Carney countered that Tarek Mehanna was being punished for activity protected by the First Amendment, for translating documents freely available in Arabic on the Internet and for his refusal to be an informant. The government, Carney said, does not want people to be able to read the views that other people hold. “This case goes further than any other in attacking speech protected by the First Amendment,” and involved important constitutional issues at every turn.The Mehanna case ruling and sentencing suggest that Muslims do not have the right to protected speech, and that “venting” can cost them the long years in prison spared the Hutaree militia.
Not only did the prosecution and judge shun any discussion of what the First Amendment protects and does not protect. They steered clear of the Supreme Court’s 2010 Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project ruling which criminalizes any kind of “material support” if carried out in connection with a group on the State Department’s terrorism list, while upholding “independent advocacy,” even of the most controversial kind.
The country has clearly traveled a long way since an Idaho jury in June 2004 found that the web activity carried out by a Saudi graduate student, Sami Omar Al Hussayyen, was protected by the First Amendment. He had been indicted in a blaze of publicity for setting up websites for Islamic organizations and posting inflammatory messages on the Internet.Discuss...The lesson of the Mehanna case is that where Muslims are concerned, sentiments like these could constitute ‘thought crime.’
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