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For every action there is a reaction.

Action: Terry Jones, the rabble-rouser pastor of an outspoken ‘fringe’ Florida church that condemns Islam as a religion of the devil, finally carried out his promises to burn the Koran on March 20th, 2011.

Reaction: In response, an Afghan mob kills 10 United Nations workers who are in no way connected to the burnings of the sacred book.

Most times I’d like to think that lunatic political actors like Jones do not actually possess any sort of influence in today’s society, but today I was proved wrong. A spark on one side of the globe can light the world on fire. I think Jones has blood on his hands. He can’t claim ignorance, as Washington decried and forewarned the bloody ramifications of his incendiary remarks and actions. I really wonder why this kind of speech doesn’t qualify as ‘fighting words’, unprotected by the First Amendment:

[I]t is well understood that the right of free speech is not absolute at all times and under all circumstances. There are certain well defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which have never been thought to raise any Constitutional problem. These include the lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous, and the insulting or “fighting” words — those which, by their very utterance, inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace. It has been well observed that such utterances are no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and are of such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality.

Chaplinsky v New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568 (1942).

Pastor Terry Jones words and actions incited senseless acts of violence halfway across the globe. It may not be domestic, but nevertheless caused what seems to me a ‘breech of peace’. Please, can any lawyers/academics out there explain why we can’t categorize the Jones’ act as unprotected ‘fighting words’?

In the midst of all this, we also can’t forget that it takes two to tango, and both players –Jones and the fiery short-sited mob — are to be booed off the stage.

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One Comment

  1. Not sure if they’re related, a but a later case–Brandenberg v Ohio, I think is the current precedent (if I remember from my media/free speech law class), where you had to prove where that said words actually were “incitement,” or actually a call to physical violence and harm.

    Burning a Koran does not say, “let’s go out and kill people.” In fact, it’s simply burning a book, so it’s likely to be legally protected by 1st Amendment law. Had he said, “let us go out–on April 1, 2011–to all the Muslim churches in Florida and burn them to the ground, slaughter their members and dance on their graves,” then there’d be sufficient grounds to claim ‘incitement.’

    Does the action of burning a Koran directly cause people to die? Clearly yes. Can it be legally connected? And if it could, would it mean anything in a US court? Definitely not.

    But it’s absolutely disgusting, and until we start making harsher guidelines about what you can and can’t publicaly say (which will never happen because it’d be construed as censorship or government intervention by someone), things like this will continue to happen.

    Or maybe if instead, it were 10 US soldiers killed. Then we might have a real legal battle going on. Maybe we could call Jones a terrorist then, or a traitor–directly aiding in the harm of American soldiers.


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