News / USA

    Americans Say Curbing Anti-Muslim Speech Would Be 'Slippery Slope'

    The Rev. Karen Brau and her flock at Luther Place Memorial Church in Washington, DC, don't get too worked up about the sacredness of religious symbols. This year they are covering up crosses so that a Jewish congregation can use the large 19th century church for High Holiday worship.

    And when a crucifix is desecrated, as in the 1987 Andres Serrano artwork "Piss Christ" that is stirring up controversy again with its appearance in a new show this week in New York, Brau says she feels sadness. But she tries to understand what is motivating the action.

    "Is the person who desecrates a cross with urine, are they coming from a place of having experienced some of the horrors that church has done over time to people, whether it be the Crusades or burning of people, or some of the stuff now with the Catholic church and abuse?" she asks.

    At the same time, the pastor sympathizes with Muslims who were angered by the "Innocence of Muslims" internet video that insulted their holy prophet because Muslims see it as an attack on their faith.

    "And so when you look at it in that way I think I do have understanding as to why it would garner this reaction that seems very very pointed," she says.

    Many Americans may have conflicting feelings about the "Innocence of Muslims" video that has sparked deadly protests in the Muslim world. But even Muslims in the United States know that in this country blasphemy is not punished.

    Imam Hassan Qazwini of the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, Michigan, condemns the Egyptian American Coptic Christians who made the film.   

    "These Coptics, unfortunately, took advantage of the freedom offered to them by our society. Had they been living elsewhere, maybe they could not have wreaked this havoc and caused all this turmoil," he says.

    But that's exactly what is intended by the First Amendment to the Constitution, according to Robert Destro, director of the Interdisciplinary Program in Law & Religion at the Catholic University of America in Washington.

    "Our government is not supposed to take sides in religious disputes," says the professor, who has written the leading law school textbook in the United States on the subject of religious liberty.

    "If there is a problem between believing Muslims and whoever made this video - which most of us have never seen - then that's a problem to be worked out privately among them," he says, adding that American Muslim scholars have also said that is the response the Quran prescribes to the faithful.

    "They're supposed to confront the person and admonish them in a good and charitable way," he says.

    American law only allows speech to be restricted that is a threat to public order, and the controversy over "Innocence of Muslims" is a religious dispute, Destro says, because it was made by someone whose apparent aim was to criticize Islam.

    But some legal scholars are now arguing that in a globalized world it may be necessary to reconsider what American law counts as incitement. Destro says any limiting of free speech would be dangerous.

    "The very idea that we start to say to people your thoughts are illegitimate, where does that stop?" he says. "It's very easy to say we should protect other people's sensibilities. But it's very easy for governments to turn that into a tool of political or religious oppression."

    Destro says America's First Amendment is based on a religious belief: that only the Almighty can judge whether a person has chosen the right path to Him. And it goes further than European countries, where certain forms of hate speech are restricted.

    Destro offers a hypothetical example: "In the United States, if I wanted to deny the Holocaust I will never go to jail for it," he says. "I will be embarrassed, I will be shunned, I will be ridiculed for having made those kinds of statements, but those are moral judgments made by my fellow citizens."

    At the Luther Place church worshippers, like many Americans, believe that allowing hateful and blasphemous speech is a necessary price to pay for freedom of expression.

    "I think it's a pretty slippery slope," says choir member Krista Martin, "when you start going after religious symbols and religion, and saying, 'You can say this but you can't say that.'"

    "Most of us feel horrible" about the video and its creator, adds congregant Roland Reed. "And maybe we have our bad moments when we wish we could take him out and give him a whipping or something.

    "But we can't do it," he adds. "If we did that, then who is safe?"

    You May Like

    US, Somalia Launch New Chapter in Relations

    US sends first ambassador to Somalia in 25 years; diplomatic presence and forces pulled out in 1993, after 18 US soldiers were killed when militiamen shot down military helicopter

    Brexit Vote Ripples Across South Asia

    Experts say exit is likely to have far-reaching economic, political and social implications for a region with deep historic ties to Britain

    Russian Military Tests Readiness With Snap Inspections

    Some observers see surprise drill as tit-for-tat response to NATO’s recent multinational military exercises in Baltic region

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Testing Bamboo as Building Materiali
    X
    June 27, 2016 9:06 PM
    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video New York Pride March A Celebration of Life, Mourning of Loss

    At this year’s march in New York marking the end of pride week, a record-breaking crowd of LGBT activists and allies marched down Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, in what will be long remembered as a powerful display of solidarity and remembrance for the 49 victims killed two weeks ago in an Orlando gay nightclub.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapides’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora