Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Yes, Extremely Distasteful, But...

The decision by Rev. Terry Jones and the Dove World Outreach Center to burn the Quran is in poor taste, does nothing to advance Christianity, and in fact, goes very far toward alienating those the church purports to reach.

That is my personal opinion on that subject.

And yet, all that aside, I also believe this same activity is protected speech and should be treated as such.

Muslim Advocates executive director Farhana Khera said after the meeting that Holder had described the Koran-burning plan as “idiotic and dangerous,” but regretted the ceremony itself was not a violation of federal law. (Article by Mike Bernos)

Now, granted, this is hearsay, with a newspaper reporter quoting Farhana Khera, who is quoting Eric Holder, but, if true, this statement troubles me.

You see, I for one, do not regret that the ceremony is not a violation of federal law.  The last thing I need is some stuffed shirt deep in the bowels of the political wasteland telling me what should be an allowed ceremony.  That, Mr. (or Mrs.) Government, is none of your business.

If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.  Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397, 415 (1989).

Texas v. Johnson was the very controversial "flag burning case," that limited the government's ability to "protect" our fragile feelings from someone else's behavior.  Hmmm.  It looks like we need to grow up, suck our lower lip back in, and understand that there are people out there that will hurt our feelings.  That does not make it a federal crime, it only proves that some people are just mean.

The State's position, therefore, amounts to a claim that an audience that takes serious offense at particular expression is necessarily likely to disturb the peace, and that the expression may be prohibited on this basis. Our precedents do not countenance such a presumption. On the contrary, they recognize that a principal “function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger.” It would be odd indeed to conclude both that "if it is the speaker's opinion that gives offense, that consequence is a reason for according it constitutional protection […] and that the Government may ban the expression of certain disagreeable ideas on the unsupported presumption that their very disagreeableness will provoke violence. Id., 408-409 (citations and footnotes omitted; formatting changed for clarity; emphasis added).

Let's hope our elected leaders get this right and stay out of it.  This issue should be handled in the public square as a difference of opinion, not in the stale halls of Washington as a potential crime. 

3 comments:

Anthony Bass said...

I hear you man!

K. Erickson said...

The government stay out of a perfectly good controversy? Good gravy man! We can't let a good controversy go to waste. We have TV time to capture. We have off the teleprompter sound bites to blather. We have shoe leather to taste.

Bob S. said...

I think people try to push the wrong end of the legal equation.

Instead of trying to prohibit something offensive, they should reduce the penalty aspect associate with any possible legal response.

Don't like people like Phelps protesting at funerals; make the fine for assault and battery on someone protesting at a funeral - $5.

Don't like people burning flags, $2 penalty for assaulting the flag burner.

Let's see if people really want to stand up and perform offensive actions without the weight of the government protecting them.