Efforts to pass a constitutional amendment banning flag-burning have, thankfully, not been successful. Approve an amendment banning burning of the flag, and you might as well burn the U.S. Constitution while you’re at it. That’s the point of the First Amendment; even stupid "speech" is protected.
But it’s still stupid, and stupider, still, when a previously-obscure pastor at a tiny Florida church burns a Koran.
Terry Jones, who heads the small, Gainesville, Fla., Dove World Outreach Center, warrants skepticism and suspicion aside from the Koran matter; as Kevin Sieff writes in a very thoroughly-reported piece tucked inside Monday’s Washington Post, Jones treated the church like his own "personal fiefdom," using parishioners for unpaid work and dividing families when some members displayed less-than-full allegiance to him.
Last year, Jones threatened to burn a Koran on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks. He wisely backed off, and one would think he wouldn’t bother to rethink the idea, since he got a great deal of media attention just for talking about it. But perhaps the attention had waned too much for Jones; members of the church apparently did conduct a symbolic burning of a Koran, putting the evidence on the Internet in case news didn’t spread quickly or far enough to get a reaction. [Read more about national security, terrorism, and the military.]
It got a reaction, all right: More than 20 people have been killed and many more injured in three days of violent protests against the burning, which Muslims (along with sensible non-Muslims as well) rightly found offensive. Is it right to kill out of protest over a symbolic burning of a holy book? No. Was it worth it for Jones to make his little First Amendment stand by doing something that was, by definition, intended to incite anger? Ask the families of the victims of the violence that ensued from the protests.
General David Petraeus condemned the burnings, and the U.S. Senate may follow. Perhaps that is what Jones and his ilk are looking for—a chance to portray President Obama, wrongly and ridiculously, as secretly Muslim, and the saner members of Congress as sympathizers to followers of a faith many Americans don’t understand. This country was founded on a great democratic tradition, one we should be proud of showcasing to those who don’t fully understand us. Abusing the rights guaranteed in the Constitution isn’t the way to do it.