News / USA

Quran Burning Offensive But Not Illegal in US

Terry Jones, the pastor of the small church in the southeastern state of Florida, has backed down from declaring this Saturday, September 11, 2010  "Burn a Koran Day."  But the idea that someone in the United States would be allowed to burn copies of Islam's most sacred text is still horrifying and puzzling to many people.  Courts have ruled numerous times that such an action, no matter how offensive or reprehensible, is protected by the Constitution of the United States.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, the director of the Minaret of Freedom Institute in Maryland, sums up the frustration and anger felt by Muslims over the public burning of the Quran.

"How is it that the right of this pastor to burn Qurans is unquestioned, while the right of Faisal Rauf and his people to build an Islamic center in Manhattan - not to mention the other mosques in Murfreesboro, Tennessee and other places - are controversial issues?  To anyone who's not lived here and doesn't understand that there's always been political give and take against legal human rights, this is just looks like simple hypocrisy," said Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad.

The U.S. Constitution enshrines freedom of expression in speech and religion.

Daniel Mach, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, says that under the Constitution, it is difficult but necessary to allow expression of objectionable or even offensive views in the United States.

Related video report by Laurel Bowman

"Freedom of speech is easy when the message is one few people find objectionable," said Daniel Mach. "But defending the right of free expression is most critical when the message, like the one here, is one that most people consider reprehensible.  The answer in our system is not to restrict people's right to speak or protest, even when their speech is bigoted or hateful."

In case after case, U.S. courts have affirmed that free speech includes modes of expression that might offend even most of society, including rallies by American Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan, and burning the U.S. flag.

But a common question of many people around the world is, "Why don't U.S. authorities ban the burning of the Quran, which many people find extremely hateful?"

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad of the Minaret of Freedom Institute points out that other Western democracies have laws banning hate speech, but that freedom of speech in the United States is unique.

"The American notion of democracy differs from that of all other Western countries," he said. "America is the only country in the world where you can burn any book you want to as a gesture of defiance without consequences.  For example, if in Germany or France you were to write a book questioning the Holocaust, you would go to jail and there are people in jail in France for doing that.  Only in the United States could you do such a thing."

George Washington University law professor Ira Lupu says that for hate speech to be a crime in the United States, it has to be part of a call to commit violence.

"If he [Reverend Terry Jones] got up there and burned the Quran and said, 'All right folks, let's burn the Quran; let's go march across the street to the mosque or the Islamic center and throw bricks through the window,' well, that's an incitement, okay?  That's an incitement," said Ira Lupu. "But if he burns the Quran and expresses dislike for Islam, he has not incited people with his words to imminent lawless action.  He may have incited people to hatred, but hatred's not a crime, either.  Hatred is an attitude.  It's not a crime."

Charles Haynes is Director of the Religious Freedom Education Project at the First Amendment Center here in Washington.  He says unbridled freedom of expression allows for an open marketplace of ideas in which hateful views of a tiny minority will be overwhelmed by vast majority of people who find them offensive.

"So it's true that freedom in the United States, especially religious freedom, can get messy," said Charles Haynes. "But the messiness of it is also the genius of our arrangement.  So I think that people will see if they look carefully that censoring speech or keeping people from saying things that may offend other people actually backfires and makes it worse. Giving full freedom of expression to everyone means that speech we do like will drown out speech we don't like."

Legal scholars point out that the United States is the most liberal country in the world with respect to freedom of expression.

You May Like

Unpaid Kurdish Fighters Sign of Economic Woes

Sharp cuts in Kurdistan's budget by Baghdad, falling oil revenue, coping with refugees, inflated public sector have hit regional economy hard More

Koreas Exchange List of Envoys for Family Reunion Talks

Officials will discuss date, venue and number of participants for reunion; Seoul hopes to hold event late this month More

China Targets 197 in Online Speech Crackdown

Nearly 200 punished for 'spreading rumors' online in ongoing crackdown on free speech More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 02, 2015 6:19 PM
Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.

VOA Blogs