You may recall that your tax dollars were used recently to send the Ground-Zero-Mosque imam, Feisal Rauf, on a State-Department-sponsored tour to promote his book. Yet just two days ago, the city of Gainesville, Florida announced it would send almost-Koran-burner Terry Jones a bill for about $200,000 for security measures associated with his planned conflagration. It’s a blatant and disturbing double-standard that nobody is calling out.
There’s no need to go into great detail here about what a terrible idea the Ground Zero Mosque is, or how its chief proponent, Imam Rauf, is a shady character with dangerous views; that’s all been well-established elsewhere. But it is important to know that this fellow has received thousands of your tax dollars and mine to tour the world to promote his book. He’s a Muslim, which is his right, and it is certainly his right to pen a book. It’s the state sponsorship of his work, including the purchase and distribution of the book, that raises First Amendment concerns. The book’s title: “What’s Right With Islam: A New Vision for Muslims and the West.”
To sum up: a Muslim cleric, promoting the building of a mega-mosque near Ground Zero, has received a tax-dollar-sponsored tour to tout the virtues of his book about what’s “right with Islam.” (Where’s the ACLU lawsuit on this, by the way?)
Now we turn to Terry Jones. As with Rauf, there’s no need here to rehash why Jones is an idiot and why burning Korans is childish and un-Christian. But it is worth noting that, as stupid and pointless a display as it would have been, it would certainly have been Jones’s and his flock’s right to have a big ol’ Koran barbecue on their church grounds (assuming they had first obtained the appropriate bonfire permit). The fact that there are crazy people who threatened, and no doubt would have tried to carry out, acts of violence against Jones and his church if they had gone through with their Koran-burning plan doesn’t diminsh his First Amendment rights. And it shouldn’t result in the Dove World Outreach Center’s having to pick up the tab—$200,000!—to fend off would-be violent criminals and terrorists. That is to allow the lawless to dictate the free speech rights of the law-abiding, and it’s frankly unconstitutional. (Apparently Jones is going to fight in court any attempt to stick the church with the bill, and more power to him.)
Before moving on to discuss the obvious double-standard being applied to Rauf and Jones, it’s important to address a facially appealing but ultimately unavailing objection: “But wait, if you hold a big event, you should have to pay for the necessary security. That’s how it works for sports events, festivals, rallies, etc.”
That’s true, but it misses the point. When you plan to hold a big event, you, the speaker/organizer, are the one trying to bring lots of people together to hear or participate in your expressive activity. It is well-established constitutional law that a government may place reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions upon free speech. Such a restriction might include a requirement that you, as an event organizer, provide for reasonable crowd control and containment if you’re planning to bring together a large group of people. So, for example, it was perfectly lawful and reasonable for the “Restoring Honor” rally organizers to pay for the needed additional security personnel associated with gathering so many people in one place; getting a huge group together was one of the speakers’ purposes for holding the event.
Jones and his church, on the other hand, had no intention of bringing together a large crowd for their Koran-burning-that-wasn’t. They just wanted to get together on their own property to express themselves in a particularly stupid, but totally lawful, way. The fact that some nutters didn’t care for their speech, and were prepared to act unlawfully—and violently—to interfere with that speech, was not part of Jones’s plan. If we value free speech at all in this country, we ought to be prepared to share the cost of protecting speakers’ rights to speak (lawfully). That’s particularly the case concerning political and religious speech, which the Koran burning clearly would have been.
Here’s an analogy: you like an unpopular political candidate and want to put up in your yard a sign supporting her. It’s perfectly legal. But there is a group of people who loathe her and threaten that, if you put up the sign, they will firebomb your house. Question: should you have to pick up the tab for extra police patrols in your neighborhood if you decide to put up the sign? Should we let outlaws dictate your free speech rights? Or should free speech be available only to those wealthy enough to afford additional police protection?
The answer is obvious: if free speech rights are going to mean anything, we must be prepared to protect speakers, even ones who wish to say unpopular things, from those who would silence them by threatening violence.
Turning to the double-standard being applied to Rauf and Jones, it’s really quite stark. Imam Rauf, who claims to be a peace agent, has fomented one of the greatest antagonisms of our time. Yet we don’t send him a bill for the protests, both for and against the GZ Mosque, that occurred on 9/11, or for any protests before or since. Instead, we spend federal tax dollars to buy his pro-Muslim books and send him on an international tour.
But for the guy who wants to speak lawfully (albeit tastelessly) against Islam, well, we have another plan entirely: sock ‘em with a $200,000 bill caused by wackos who want to kill him. Nobody says much about it, certainly not in the elite media, because they hated Jones anyway; he’s getting what they think he deserves.
It is hypocrisy on stilts; it is unconstitutional and un-American. And it’s time to call it out.
W. Duncan Crosby III