Lawyer: Free speech shields woman charged in mosque burglary

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Tahnee Gonzales, has pleaded not guilty to a charge of burglarizing a mosque in Tempe, and Marc Victor, one of her lawyers (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Tahnee Gonzales, has pleaded not guilty to a charge of burglarizing a mosque in Tempe, and Marc Victor, one of her lawyers (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Tahnee Gonzales was released from jail Friday evening, and apparently not happy to find reporters waiting for her. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Tahnee Gonzales was released from jail Friday evening, and apparently not happy to find reporters waiting for her. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Elizabeth Dauenhauer, 51, (left) and Tahnee Gonzales, 32, both charged with third-degree burglary after they filmed themselves stealing from a Tempe mosque. (Source: Maricopa County Sheriff's Office) Elizabeth Dauenhauer, 51, (left) and Tahnee Gonzales, 32, both charged with third-degree burglary after they filmed themselves stealing from a Tempe mosque. (Source: Maricopa County Sheriff's Office)
They were arrested after they published a Facebook Live video of about 20 minutes showing one filming the other walking around the mosque property with three children, removing posters, brochures and other materials. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) They were arrested after they published a Facebook Live video of about 20 minutes showing one filming the other walking around the mosque property with three children, removing posters, brochures and other materials. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5/AP) -

An attorney for one of two Arizona woman charged with burglarizing mosque as they spewed derogatory comments about Muslims said Thursday that his client's case isn't about hate speech but rather about her exercise of free speech rights.

Tahnee Gonzales, 32, and Elizabeth Dauenhauer, 51, filmed themselves on March 4 as they removed fliers and Qurans from shelves, bins and bulletin boards in a fenced-in courtyard behind the Islamic Community Center in Tempe, a Phoenix suburb. The two are known for making anti-Muslim statements at political events in the Phoenix area.

[READ: Women accused of posting anti-Muslim video, stealing from mosque out of jail]

[VIDEO: See what Tahnee Gonzales had to say as she left jail]

In the video, the two women referred to Muslims as devil worshippers, likened them to animals, made sexually derogatory comments about them and claimed Muslims were taking advantage of Americans by using public benefits. One of the women shouted insults at a man outside the mosque who described himself as a practicing Muslim.

The video, posted on Gonzales' social media account, shows the two women and their children walking past a no-trespassing sign that was posted on a gate leading into the courtyard.

Gonzales and Dauenhauer pleaded not guilty on Thursday to charges of burglary and aggravated criminal damage. If convicted on those charges, they would face a maximum sentence of four years in prison.

[RELATED: Women indicted after hate-filled video recorded at mosque]

Marc Victor, an attorney representing Gonzales, said outside of court that his client's intent in going to the mosque was to make political statements.

Victor said the mosque is open to the public, and that Islamic center intended for people to take the material that Gonzales and Dauenhauer walked away with. Victor said his client's speech is protected by the First Amendment.

"This has never been a burglary case," Victor said. "The only reason this case is charged as a burglary case is because of the content of the speech."

He added that her speech was "peaceful."

Ahmad Al-Akoum, a spokesman for the Islamic Community Center of Tempe, responded saying, "It’s unbelievable someone would listen to a tape like this and say it’s peaceful." 

He added, "Free speech has nothing to do with this case," and "You do not intrude on somebody’s property and then say I’m exercising my free speech."

Al-Koum explained the center is open to the public, but visitors must check in at the front office first or else it's considered trespassing. He also added brochures and items in the courtyard are only meant for members and guests who have permission to take them.  

[WATCH: "Speech is speech. The content of speech, political or non-political, is protected by our First Amendment."

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery explained that Arizona doesn't have a separate hate crime statute.

"But we do have a sentence enhancement that seeks greater punishment if someone’s conduct fits the definition of a hate crime. In this particular case that’s something that’s certainly something that we are looking at," he said.

Arizona's Family asked Mark Mendoza, an attorney representing Dauenhauer, if he is taking the same position as Victor. He said "no comment."

We see this as a First Amendment speech case. This is not a case of content of speech. This is a case of in America, people are free to say what they want to say and that's the principle we're defending in this case and we're going to defend it very aggressively.

~ Marc Victor, Attorney for Tahnee Gonzales


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