I am a huge defender of free speech. It is a core value and a cherished right of all Americans. I believe it is a double-edged sword but one that should be protected. Now and then we have obvious examples of provocative speech that causes social harm, even death outside of America. The line here is very thin and it is often extremely hard to grasp in terms of distinctions and nuances. It is this particular freedom that the Supreme Court has often had to protect by new rulings and decisions that create more misunderstanding. I am personally thankful that they remain vigilant about free speech.
I thought of this recently when Pastor Terry Jones, minister of a 25-member congregation in Gainesville, Florida, publicly burned a copy of the Qur’an last Saturday, April 28. Jones' public burning followed a personal meeting and intense conversation just one day earlier with representatives of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), including the executive director, Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe. Geoff is a friend that I deeply admire and respect. I believe he acted in good faith in trying to defuse this publicity stunt and to stop Jones from carrying out his ridiculous display of foolishness.
The World Evangelical Alliance issued a news release about the private meeting between Jones and Tunnicliffe. I urge you to read it carefully.
One of the great tragedies of free speech is the harmful way some Christians use it to make a statement. Such was the case with Jones' newest episode. But the misuse of free speech doesn't alter the simple fact that it should be protected under law. I do not expect Muslim societies to broadly understand our view of the law (one can pray that the day will come when this changes) but we cannot go back and restrict it in the U.S. or we will become a society that is little different than those presently inflamed by the passions of religious fundamentalism.
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As long as the media gives airtime,ink,and electrons to people like Jones, there will be stunts like this. There is no reason for Jones to get the kind of publicity that he does. Unfortunately, there is a propensity in the media to find people outside of the mainstream (way outside) to interview and represent Christians. Normally, I do not like to make this kind of statement, but, Jones is a sideshow act who is looking for attention.