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Lawyer: Free speech shields woman charged in mosque burglary

PHOENIX – A lawyer for one of the two Arizona woman charged with burglarizing a mosque as they spewed derogatory remarks about Muslims said Thursday that his client’s case is not about hate, but about her exercise of free speech rights.

Tahnee Gonzales, 32, and Elizabeth Dauenhauer, 51, filmed himself on 4 March, when they removed flyers and Qurans of shelves, drawers and bulletin boards in a fenced-in courtyard behind the Islamic Community Center in Tempe, a suburb of Phoenix. The two are known for making anti-Islamic statements on the political events in the Phoenix area.

In the video, the two women referred to Muslims as devil worshippers, I compared it with animals, made sexually derogatory comments about them and claimed that the Muslims were taking advantage of Americans with the public benefits. They 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 walk along a no-trespassing sign posted on a gate that leads to the courtyard of the mosque.

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

Marc Victor, a lawyer Gonzales, said outside the court that his client’s intention in going to the mosque to make political statements.

Victor said the mosque is open to the public, and that the Islamic centre, designed for people to take the material that Gonzales and Dauenhauer walked away. Victor said that his client’s speech was protected by the First Amendment.

“This is never the case of a break-in,” Victor said. “The only reason that this case is brought to case of break-in is the result of the content of the speech.”

Amanda Jacinto, a spokeswoman for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, that the prosecution of Gonzales and Dauenhauer, declined to comment on Victor’s comments.

Mark Mendoza, a lawyer who Dauenhauer, did not immediately return a text message seeking comment.

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Follow Jacques Billeaud on twitter.com/jacquesbilleaud. His work can be found at https://www.apnews.com/search/jacques%20billeaud.

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