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Burning the Koran: The Frightening Reach of the Internet and The First Amendment September 8, 2010

Posted by legalethicsemporium in Law, Ethics & Society, Religion, U.S. Constitution.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Pastor Terry Jones, the pastor of a church with 50 members, is planning a national burning of the Koran day to commemorate September 11th.  He lives in Gainesville, Florida and in another era Jones’ hostile rhetoric might have been only a local community problem.  However, introduce Facebook and the reach of the internet and Jones has created an international controversy with people not only cheering and abhorring the event, but also fearing for their lives in foreign countries.

Jones, who holsters a gun on his hip, is aware of pleas from Christians who live as far away as Indonesia and Afghanistan and are afraid of the repercussions of the burning the Koran.  However, Jones appears to be stubborn in his determination to spread his word of the evil infiltration of Islam into our country.  All of this fervor despite the fact that Jones acknowledges that he has never read the Koran and only knows what the Bible says.

One insightful observer has commented that Terry Jones has “hijacked Christianity” much as Al Qaeda “hijacked Islam.” So why are Gainesville officials allowing Mr Jones to proceed?  Terry Jones’ actions are blanketed in First Amendment protection–The U.S. Supreme Court has held that both the burning of the American flag and the Ku Klux Klan’s cross burning is a form of  protected speech unless it is done with intent to specifically intimidate another individual.

Our democracy allows Jones to initiate National Burn a Koran Day and also supports the right of the people planning to assemble to protest Jones’ event.  Again, one has to wonder whether the Founding Fathers  might have been a bit more specific in their thinking if they could have envisioned the Internet and the international ripples that Facebook enables.  And we should note once again that just because someone is afforded Constitutional rights does not necessarily speak to the wisdom of exercising those rights, insensitively, at the expense of others.

As a person whose ancestors were murdered at Auschwitz, I cannot help but connect the burning of books to Nazi Germany. “Book burnings by German college students preceded Kristallnacht and proved 19th century German-Jewish poet Heinrich Heine’s prediction. “Where they burns books they will eventually burn people.””

While I am always cautious  when invoking a Nazi analogy and clearly distinguish Nazi inhumanity as government action rather than the ranting of an individual citizen empowered with freedom of expression,  I am sure that I am not alone in having that guttural reaction.  Obviously, the burning of any books, and especially a sacred book, is a powerful statement and that is why Jones is planning his bonfire.

And while our country tolerates a wide range of freedom of expression, what we do not legally tolerate and should not socially tolerate is abject discrimination.  The fact that we have honest dialogue and exchange of varying viewpoints is undeniably an admirable, precious feature of our government.  The fact that we currently are having a debate about the “Muslim issue” in our country is alarming beyond expression and should be  frightening to anyone who  respects not only the right of  freedom of religion, but also the basic right to be free. Period. Pure and simple.



1. Yosoy - September 8, 2010

If there really is a god there will be a torrential downpour that day…

2. Michael Lodish - September 8, 2010

I was just reading about this in the paper this morning. What this Pastor is doing is wrong and a mistake. In fact, General Patreus who is leading our troops in Afghanistan has come out and said the Pastor should not do this, because it will incite more hate and put our troops in even more danger. I think our country’s freedoms are great, but I do believe there should be limitations and this is one of them. It is why I feel it is reasonable to be opposed to the mosque by ground zero, because I believe the leadership of it, the funding for it and location choice is coming from hateful place. Cross burning should not be a protected form of speech, nor should flag burning. Just like children need limits, adult’s needs laws that limit behaviors such as publically burning religious books.~ Mike

3. Ruth - September 8, 2010

We live in troubling times. To limit frightening actions and prejudiced voices is to limit freedom and yet one wonders if the time has come for us to consider that with disgression. Let the rains come and wash away the actions.

4. julie - September 8, 2010

The pastor’s intent is hateful. Although he could argue he is not intending to “specifically intimidate another individual”, I would argue that his burning of the Koran is intending to intimidate a whole class of individuals – a whole religion. Really, he should be ashamed of himself. Does the law making some actions into “Hate Speech” need to be broadened to include this type of activity? Decency is defined as behavior that conforms to accepted standards of morality or respectability. Our laws should reflect our common decency.

5. Ruth - September 9, 2010

The problem is complex and not an easy one to solve. I understand that the Pastor has only 50 members in his “church.” and I find it ironic that his name is Jones. It keeps making me think of the other Jones and Koolaid.

6. yosoy - September 9, 2010

One could now argue that our system of government (when administered tactfully) is able to keep society stable by controlling its citizens and influencing their free-will without any force, fear-mongering, or ethically questionable activity. Throughout history I don’t think that has been accomplished.

I personally wouldn’t argue that, but an audience of lawyers should theoretically be entertained by discovering and innovative argument, right?

7. yosoy - September 9, 2010

I mean since he called it off…

8. legalethicsemporium - September 9, 2010

Well, that’s the idea—We give up some of our rights to have the government protect the most important ones. I guess that it is imperfect because it is administered by human beings who are subject to individual instability and are indecisive—-He’s reconsidering burning the books because the mosque isn’t moving….(More in my new entry above…)

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