Terry Jones’s planned protest outside a Dearborn mosque might have gone forward without much notice, except for the fact that Michigan prosecutors tried to stop it. In the process, they ended up turning a bigoted fool with a paltry following into a First Amendment crusader.

A jury determined yesterday that the anti-Islam protest was likely to incite violence and breach the peace. Jones was ordered to submit a $1 “peace bond,” and was jailed when he refused to pay it. In other words, he was locked up for a non-crime that he hadn’t even committed yet. And not only has the ruling generated sympathy for Jones, but it’s also likely to give him a public platform to preach his massage. As the Washington Post reported:

Jones said he is returning to Dearborn on Friday, and will hold a demonstration at 5 p.m. outside Dearborn City Hall. He said he wants to stay within the confines of the law. Jones said the issue has shifted from “radical Islam” to a battle to [protect] the First Amendment. “We’re getting support from all around America,” Jones said.

Imagine if Dearborn had just let Jones and his 10 followers wave around some protest signs for a couple of hours. The whole thing would have been over by now. Now it looks as if we’re all condemned to sit through another long round of media coverage, with Jones filing a lawsuit against the county.

But there may still be a positive outcome from this episode, if it ends up prompting a serious national conversation about free speech and Islam. Canada and European countries have been struggling with this for years, and it’s probably about time for us to confront the issue as well.

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