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

    Turkey, US Splits Deepen Over Support for Kurdish Militants

    Ankara summons American ambassador to protest remarks by State Department spokesman who said Washington does not consider Syria's Kurdish Democracy Union Party (PYD) a terrorist organization

    Obama Seeking $19 Billion for National Cybersecurity

    Move, touted as attempt to build broad, cohesive federal response to cyberthreats, calls for increase in cybersecurity spending across all government agencies

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire, who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen

    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.
    Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clownsi
    X
    February 09, 2016 8:04 PM
    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay Prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Middle East Affairs and national security.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.