Worse than Quran burning

The column by Rory Marsh ’13 missed the mark in suggesting punishment for Rev. Terry Jones (“My town, tarnished,” Sept. 23). Marsh is right calling Jones’ Quran burning un-American, hateful and bad for the way The U.S. is viewed by the world. It also cost his town a large amount of money. I sympathize with him and I join those condemning Jones’ actions.

But the column gets the issue completely wrong. First, there is no such thing as a hate crime on its own: “Hate crime” as a legal term is simply a condition that calls for higher sentencing guidelines for other crimes. For example, if Jones had beaten up Muslims, then he could be charged with assault and his sentence might be increased if the prosecutors proved that he was motivated by hate. But hateful speech is not by itself a hate crime.

Marsh also implies that President Barack Obama should have threatened to use force against Jones. But as defined in Brandenburg v. Ohio, the standard for restricting speech is only that “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.” Jones was not trying to incite violence. Violence as a response to his speech would have come from Islamic extremists, not from those who agree with Jones.

Perhaps, the state of Florida could pass a law banning Quran burning (maybe under the “fighting words” doctrine), but it hasn’t yet, and such a law would probably be ruled unconstitutional anyway.

But the column didn’t call for Florida to pass a law. It called for the arrest of an innocent American citizen for exercising his constitutional rights. In the end, I’m not sure which of the following would be worse for America: if we followed Jones and burned Qurans, or if we followed Marsh and burned the first Amendment.

Eli Markham

Sept. 23

The writer is a sophomore in Ezra Stiles College and a Production and Design staffer for the News.