Willmar man who thinks a pig’s foot is free speech avoids jail time

Joseph Francis Fernkes, 62, of Willmar, got off with about a $430 fine when he acknowledged being the person who put a pig’s foot on table at a farmer’s market display being staffed by Somalis.

In a plea deal, more serious charges were dropped, the West Central Tribune says.

It was a serious assault, given that pork products and anything pig-related are considered unclean by those of the Muslim faith, the paper noted.

Fernkes’ attorney, John Mack, wanted only a $100 fine because he said Fernkes was extending an olive branch to the Somali community in Willmar by acknowledging his guilt and avoiding a trial.

Then a judge gave Fernkes a chance to say something and further the healing.

“I get offended too by things,” Fernkes said.

That might’ve been the moment when the possibility of a $100 fine disappeared.

“It is a criminal act,” and no different if someone decided to break a window at Fernkes’ home because they didn’t like him, [District Judge Michael]Thompson said.

Thompson said that this country is founded on individual liberty, and everyone has the right to believe and think what they want, as long as it doesn’t hurt someone.

“It doesn’t hurt you if someone belongs to the Islamic faith,” just as it doesn’t hurt anyone if Fernkes belongs to the Christian faith, Thompson said. The vast majority of followers of a religion, including Christianity and Islam, are peaceful and deplore violence, but there are always radicals willing to twist those religions to suit their ends, Thompson added. That doesn’t mean you should assume all the followers of that religion are violent radicals.

“There is no evidence anyone was hurting you at that time,” Thompson said.

Fernkes has stated he does not like Muslims.

Had the more serious charges not been dropped in the plea deal, he might’ve gone to jail.

His attorney said it was a free speech case and he was prepared to argue it all the way to the Supreme Court.