Jones, the "pastor" (PINO?) of the tiny and inconsequential Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., was jailed last week in Dearborn, Mich., "following a jury trial that found he was likely to create a 'breach of the peace' for plans to protest outside the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn," according to the Detroit News.
Jones and his associate Wayne Sapp were taken into custody after they refused to post a $1 "peace bond." A judge then barred Jones and Sapp from entering the property of the Islamic Center - the largest mosque in the U.S. - for three years. The two posted bond and were released, but they promised to return on Friday.
Last month, Jones burned a Koran, which led to demonstrations and deaths in the Middle East.
Let's get the obligatory and obvious out of the way before moving to the central issue in this case. Jones is a publicity hound and an offense to the One he claims to follow.
Having said that, what about Jones' First Amendment rights? In 1977, the Illinois Supreme Court, after instruction from the U.S. Supreme Court, allowed the National Socialist Party of America to march through Skokie, Ill., home of many Holocaust survivors. The Illinois Supreme Court even ruled that the hated swastika was a form of free speech and thus entitled to First Amendment protection. So, though neo-Nazis marching through a predominantly Jewish town wearing swastikas might be considered offensive, the court ruled, it was not illegal.
In the case of Fred Phelps and his family, all members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., who carry outrageous "Thank God for dead soldiers" signs and claim America is being punished because of its growing tolerance for homosexuals, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the 8-1 majority: "Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and - as it did here - inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker."
Speech with which one agrees is easy to defend. Most would defend political speech with which they disagree, although a minority would censor it. The strength and uniqueness of the First Amendment is that it defends even hate speech. The response to speech we don't like is not less speech, but more. In Skokie, some Holocaust survivors created a museum to commemorate those who were murdered by the Nazis. That's the correct reaction. Overcome darkness with light. Overcome speech you don't like with speech you do like.
In the Jones case, what are the Dearborn authorities thinking? Isn't Islam a "religion of peace"? President Obama - and George W. Bush before him - has said it is. If lawful speech and assembly brings an unlawful act of violence, shouldn't the lawbreakers be the ones punished?
This is America and public sidewalks should be for the use of the public to practice even offensive speech and peaceful assembly. That some "fear" violence is no excuse for prior restraint of speech and assembly. From whom is the violence feared?
What the Muslims in Dearborn and elsewhere in the country should be told is that in America, we do things differently than in countries where Muslims have political control. If you want to be tolerated, you have to tolerate others, including those whose beliefs you don't like. We don't conform to your religious laws; you conform to our secular laws. We are about freedom.
If you have an agenda, don't bring it here. In fact, if our ways are so offensive to you, why are you here? Why come to a land regarded by some Islamic leaders, and many followers, as "the Great Satan"? Why not stay in your home country, or, if you were born in America and embrace Islam, why not live in countries where Islam is the dominant religion? Or do you wish to dominate and subjugate the rest of us to your Sharia law?
If that is your goal, we will oppose you and even demonstrate against it. Except, apparently, in Dearborn, Mich.
Cal Thomas is the country's most widely syndicated columnist.