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

Arrested Football Officials Come Mainly From the Americas

US Justice Department alleges defendants participated in 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through corruption of international soccer More

Video Kenyans Lament Al-Shabab's Recruitment of Youths

VOA travels to Isiolo, where residents share their fears, struggles to get loved ones back from Somalia-based militant group More

This US Epidemic Keeps Getting Worse

One in 4 Americans suffers from this condition 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.
A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensionsi
X
May 26, 2015 11:11 PM
When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.

VOA Blogs