Ban Koran-Burning? If Islam Becomes a Protected Faith, Free Expression Will Be No More

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Byline: Jeffrey T. Kuhner, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Should the burning of Islam's holy book, the Koran, be banned? This is the question many in Washington are asking, following last weekend's deadly rampage in Afghanistan. On March 20, Pastor Terry Jones, who heads the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., presided over a Koran-burning. The actions of this crazy church leader set off cascading demonstrations across Afghanistan. Afghan President Hamid Karzai publicly denounced it, fanning the flames of religious hatred.

Muslim clerics called for mass anti-American demonstrations. Last Friday, in northern Afghanistan's largest city, Mazar-e-Sharif, thousands of protesters poured out of the large Blue Mosque and marched toward the United Nations mission a mile away. The angry, fanatical mob descended upon the compound and slaughtered seven United Nations workers - including defenseless women. The protesters chanted death to America and burned the U.S. flag. Demonstrations have continued to spread throughout the country.

Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of 150,000 U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan, called Mr. Jones' actions hateful, extremely disrespectful and enormously intolerant. Top congressional Democrats, such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, have condemned the Koran-burning. Even some senior Republicans are infuriated. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina suggests that limits on free speech may be necessary to protect American troops on the ground. He recently said that he would like to hold Mr. Jones accountable for defaming and destroying Islam's holy book.

Mr. Graham is wrong. In fact, one expects this kind of trendy politically correct nonsense from Democrats and the liberal media, but not a senior Republican from a conservative Christian state. This is not the first time Mr. Graham has demonstrated his progressive leanings. He has championed cap-and-trade legislation, amnesty for illegal immigrants and massive public spending. Yet, even by his establishment standards, this is beyond the pale: Who appointed him the arbiter of what is acceptable freedom of expression?

Moreover, Gen. Petraeus does not - and should not - determine the limits of the First Amendment. Mr. Jones (or any American) has the legal and moral right to burn any book - the Koran, the Bible, the Talmud - no matter how offensive. The point of freedom of expression is not to protect what is safe and socially acceptable; rather, it is precisely to safeguard provocative, even insulting actions or words. This is the true test of freedom: whether we are willing to allow those with whom we profoundly disagree to have free expression without fear of government coercion.

The paradox of liberal multiculturalism is that it seeks to undermine basic liberties in exchange for not offending the sensitivities of some officially designated protected identity-group - homosexuals, feminists, atheists, minorities and Muslims. Our freedom is being gradually eroded. …