Friday, September 13, 2013

He was arrested before he could burn 2,998 Qurans--but were his rights violated?

On September 11, 2013, Florida Pastor Terry Jones and Pastor Wayne Sapp were arrested before they could burn almost 3000 Qurans. Jones and Sapp are members of a Florida church that is very anti-Muslim. They have taken the stance that the Muslim religion is to blame for the attacks on 9/11. They also see Muslims as being violently opposed to the separation of church and state principle, as well as being unaccepting of other religions. From Jones’ view, Muslim people dislike and persecute Christians, and therefore should not be accepted in America. Jones is famous for broadcasting these views, and causing uproar amongst Muslims in third world countries. This led to riots and Muslims attacking the Americans stationed there to help keep the peace.

Jones and Sapp had attempted to attain a park permit for this ritual. They wanted to burn 2,998 copies of the Quran as a tribute to the 2,998 people who lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks. However, because of a last minute location change, they did not have a permit. Despite this, Jones’ organization broadcasted that they were going to complete this Quran burning, and feel as if their arrest was a targeted arrest to prevent them from completing it and exercising their freedom of speech. They were technically arrested because they were stopped on their way to the burning transporting Kerosene-soaked Qurans in a grill that was attached to the back of their vehicle. This is a safety hazard and the two pastors now face charges of unlawful conveyance of fuel. While this is a valid charge, supporters are arguing that the arrest is unjust if it was motivated by a desire to prevent the Quran burning.

If Jones’ lawyers can prove that this arrest was a motivated one, the issue becomes whether or not Jones’ freedom of speech and freedom to exercise his religious beliefs win out when in conflict with the freedom of Muslims to exercise their religion in peace. This is a highly contentious issue. On the one hand, the first amendment does guarantee Jones the freedom of speech, and although burning a Quran is very offensive, it is a peaceful protest. However, does the government have a right to prevent it in hopes that that prevents violence from breaking out in other countries in response to the act? What about Muslim-Americans, are their rights being infringed upon by this disrespect and discrimination? Would allowing the burning of Qurans lead to even more discrimination and anti-Muslim sentiments that may eventually prevent Muslims from practicing their religion in peace?

I personally find it difficult to agree with what Jones did. He is blaming an entire religion for the actions of a few, when we know that it is unjust to stereotype every Muslim as violent and in support of the happenings of 9/11. This is a disrespectful act that could only perpetuate the animosity between Muslims and Christians, and would certainly not help convince Muslims that Christianity is deserving of respect. It is ironic that he is attacking a religion because they do not accept his. However, although many Americans may not agree with his method of executing his beliefs, does that mean he does not have the right to express them? He believes in them so strongly that he has made them religiously motivated. If he were protesting a non-secular book in the same manner, it would be easy to say that he had the right to do so.

The case becomes further complicated by the fact that his actions serve as a legitimate threat to the peace and order of society. Even in as far back as the Reynolds v United States case, concerning the right to plural marriage for religious purposes, the idea of maintaining peace and order is stressed. The court makes the decision in this case that although everyone can believe what they want, they cannot act on these beliefs if their actions will upset the peace and order of society. This is an established precedent, and one in which the court has decided overrules basic freedoms. To allow Jones to burn 2,998 Qurans knowing that it may lead to riots and American military deaths in other countries is a difficult concept to accept.

Furthermore, when the actions of one religious group interfere with the free exercise of another religious group, who is to win out? Presumably, the law should protect those who are the victims in the situation. Therefore, the law must protect Muslims from being ostracized and threatened. Although it may not seem like a big deal to non-Muslims, burning the Quran is one of the worst crimes in the eyes of the Muslim. America guarantees them the right to engage in their beliefs in peace. The government allowing the burning of the Quran when they are perfectly aware that it is taking place could be seen as a violation of this basic right. This then leads to my conclusion that Jones was rightfully arrested and should not have the right to harass Muslims solely because of his own discriminatory beliefs. 


Liz L. said...

There are two parts to the argument: Jones’ freedom to express himself and keeping the public order. Because his words and actions may be interpreted as “hate speech” (causing harm and insulting others), his argument about his First Amendment right is diminished. The purpose of his actions are to cause harm and to disrupt society, putting the public’s safety at risk. Jones has the right to state his opinion through word and/or action, but only until it effects the public safety and order as well as the rights of others. I agree with Nicole about his arrest. Jones is permitted to express himself, but, because other people are suffering from his actions, police have every right to arrest him.

Sayeh B said...

I completely agree that Jones' arrest was justified for multiple reasons. First and foremost, he did not obtain a permit and knowingly broke the law in order to carry out his protest. Regardless of what he is protesting, his arrest was justified simply by the fact that he didn't follow the legal protocol to carry out his demonstration. Secondly, I do not believe that his protest was in any way peaceful. His history shows that his harsh words and violent thoughts have caused riots and led to the death of some Americans. Given that and taking into account how strong of a statement he is attempting to make by burning the equivalent of the Bible for Muslims would lead me to believe that he is trying to disturb the peace. As cited in the Reynolds case, it is the government's job to maintain the peace, and it does not seem like Jones has any concern with remaining peaceful. I don't believe that Jones' lawyers could find any way to show that this arrest was motivated because he intentionally broke the law and was previously the cause of violent disturbances: he is a threat to the safety of society and his arrest was definitely justified.