Religious and interfaith tolerance is a delicate balance that should be protected, not burned in hatred. Even so, Florida pastor Terry Jones burned the holy book of Islam on a grill March 20 during a demonstration in Gainesville.
Last year, Jones decided against burning the Quran in response to thousands of protestors in and outside of the U.S. It is now painfully obvious that global opinion did not deter the hatemonger.
Since the burning, violent protests against Jones, author of the book, “Islam is of the Devil,” have killed at least 21 people in Afghanistan and wounded more than 150, according to the Washington Post. Notably, in Mazar-i-Sharif, four demonstrators and seven U.N. workers were killed when protesters attacked a U.N. compound.
The incident raises the question of whether hate speech that causes anger outside of the U.S. should be legally protected.
The First Amendment protects free speech, but the Supreme Court has outlined the scope of that protection. The court ruled in the 1969 case Brandenburg v. Ohio that states can only restrict speech directed to incite or produce lawless actions.
Jones’ actions clearly led to lawless behavior, though the book burning did not directly cause it. Also, the violence did not occur in the U.S., so it would seem a rather unjust argument to suggest any kind of legal prosecution of the pastor.
Even if there is no prosecution, how much responsibility can be laid at Jones’ feet? When Mark David Chapman assassinated John Lennon, author J.D. Salinger was not blamed for the killing because Chapman had become obsessed with the protagonist Holden Caulfield in “Catcher in the Rye.” Salinger’s intent when writing the novel was not to inspire violence. Therefore, the question is whether Jones intended to incite violence.
Gainesville residents provide a mixed story. His church attendance – 50 families at the start of the controversy last year, according to ABC News – is an obvious sign of some support.
Yet it seems unlikely that Jones felt local support for his actions was broad.
Had this Quran burning been unannounced and spontaneous, had it not been directed to spite Muslims and had Jones been unaware of how much his actions offended others, he would simply be viewed as foolish rather than hateful. Yet, Jones did act in willful ignorance of the opinions of others.
He has antagonized a religion by acts of blasphemy, and such antagonism only causes a reaction. He is not directly responsible for those deaths, and his speech is protected; yet, Jones has a moral responsibility to think before his actions affect others. Sadly, the pastor did not seem concerned that Muslims all over the world were watching.
Niko Milstrey is a graduate student studying economics.