First Amendment Protects More Than Just Freedom of Speech

The on-going saga of Florida pastor Terry Jones dominated the headlines again last week and threatens to do the same this week.  What is really at issue here? Is it freedom of speech or expression as many assert or is it more than that – something more dangerous? Many argued for the former. Let’s take a closer look.

While the First Amendment to the Unites States Constitution does protect freedom of speech, there are exceptions. One that may well apply in the instance of Jones’ plans to burn the Koran in front of the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn is a protection against imminent lawless action and imminent or potential violence. Let’s face it, when you threaten to destroy something that others consider sacred in front of a place of worship related to that which is being burned negative things – including heated exchanges and even violence – can take place.

In that way, is the threat of people fighting and potentially being injured something that should be weighed in light of particular rights of our citizenry? Apparently, the court, which initially listened to a local lawman’s charges that such a demonstration could incite a riot, felt so and is holding to that ruling. There is also a precedent in that the last time Jones carried through with a similar action, violence broke out in Afghanistan – an already incredibly dangerous place – where, of course, we have troops stationed.

Something that not many people are talking about in all of this is religious tolerance. Rather than obliterating a symbol important to many representing a particular set of beliefs, what if time was spent instead undertaking a dialogue designed to gain a better understanding of how others think and act?  Rather than attack, why not interact – in particular when the Islamic extremist is the minority compared to the U.S.-supporting majority? You would think that Jones, as a pastor and supposed teacher of God’s word, would espouse this mindset rather than the other, especially during Christianity’s holiest week.

Doesn’t the road to positive change have to start somewhere and with someone? Why not here and now?