Going too far

Re: “My town, tarnished” (Sept.23): Rory Marsh ‘13 suggests that burning the Quran — or even just posting anti-Islam signs — should be made illegal, lest terrorists become offended and attack innocent Americans. Marsh goes as far as to suggest that we need a “new interpretation” of the First Amendment. But in Marsh’s Brave New America, it would be illegal to offend someone, as long as he or she were offended enough to become sufficiently dangerous to the community.

Presumably, this new interpretation would make flag burning illegal as long as enough angry Americans threatened to kill innocent people in response This interpretation of freedom would make the mosque at Ground Zero similarly illegal, so long as there was a significant enough threat of violence against it. A march from Selma to Montgomery in the 1960s would be too provocative, and a gay pride rally in front of the Westboro Baptist Church would put the entire community at risk. Running a news story about abuse at Abu Ghraib, broadcasting an episode of South Park or publishing a book of cartoons lampooning Mohammed would merely increase the chance of a terrorist attack. All, under Marsh’s understanding of freedom, would be banned.

The First Amendment does not exist to only protect popular speech, but rather to protect precisely the sorts of speech which are the least popular and the most likely to offend. It protects the right of Neo-Nazis to march in Skokie, the right of the Reverend King to march in Alabama and the right of Terry Jones to burn a Quran. For more than two decades, author Salman Rushdie has withstood death threats and assassination attempts from the leaders of Iran and various terrorist organizations for his depiction of Mohammed in “The Satanic Verses.”

He wrote: “What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.”

Julian Rajeshwar

Sept. 23

The writer is a 2010 graduate of Jonathan Edwards College.