On March 20th, a xenophobic idiot masquerading as a man of God lit a holy scripture on fire. This act was a proximate cause of events that caused 12 innocent people to lose their lives in Afghanistan.
This fiasco is yet another reminder of just how powerful speech is. Another group of people have found their way into the news because they (the Westboro Baptist Church) “protest” the military’s now defunct “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy (a policy which, in a fitting reminder of just how dull these protesters really are, they believe to be supportive of gay rights) by picketing the funerals of our nation’s dead soldiers.
Both of these groups caused immeasurable harm and this morning, our nation’s leaders were rightfully outraged. Of the Florida incident, General Petraeus explained “it was intolerant and it was extremely disrespectful and again, we condemn it in the strongest manner possible.”
Following up on Face the Nation, Sen. Lindsey Graham went even further:
“I wish we could find some way to hold people accountable. During WWII, you had limits on what you could say if it would inspire the enemy. Free speech is a great idea, but we are in a war. Any time in America we can push back against actions like this that put our troops at risk, we oughtta do that. I think it would be right for Congress to enforce what he [General Petraeus] said.”
While the speech is certainly reprehensible, Senator Graham’s quotation is alarming and incorrect. Congress should not, and indeed, cannot take the sort of action to which Senator Graham alludes. As the Senator well knows (he is a lawyer by training), the 1st Amendment expressly prohibits the sort of censorship he has in mind. As the Chief Justice explained earlier this year in the funeral protest case, the United States chooses “to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.”
The Florida Quran burning was irresponsible and has caused harm. But the answer to this ignorance is more speech, not less.