NRO: Okay. But suppose General Petraeus said it would be better if Americans did not criticize the teachings of Mohammad, that it would be better for American troops if Americans did not speak out on Islam. Would you advocate for that?
GRAHAM: No. One thing about free speech is that you can practice your religion and differ with others. Free speech and the freedom of religion doesn’t only guarantee your right to practice your religion, it also allows you to criticize.
Go back and look at the testimony from the Durbin hearing about protecting Muslim rights. I said then that this is a part of life. There are people who think the Baptists have got it all wrong. Well, I’m a Baptist. The Protestant–Catholic divide still exists in some corners. That’s the thing about living in a free society. You can challenge each other. You can not only practice your religion, but challenge someone else’s religion. But here’s what I am saying: In the course of that debate, if an act of an individual is so unrepresentative of how we are as a nation, and puts our troops in harm’s way, I feel a need to say that is not right. I hope most political leaders would speak out and say Koran burning is an inappropriate way to do business. I’ve condemned burning the Bible. Do you think we should say that is okay?
NRO: The question about your comments is about imposing any kind of legal pushback during a time of war.
GRAHAM: If I could, I would make it a crime to burn the flag, but the only way you could do that is through a constitutional amendment.
NRO: What I don’t understand is, if would you support an amendment to ban flag burning, why do you not support one to ban Koran burning?
GRAHAM: In my view, the flag represents who we are as a nation. It is a symbol of who we are. If you start talking about individual acts of religious intolerance, the amendment doesn’t make any sense. It does make sense, to me, to focus on the symbol of the country, the flag. I’m not proposing that we propose a ban on religious disagreement. I am saying that you can disagree with America; you can disagree with me, but don’t burn the one symbol that holds us together. That’s not an act of speech. They say that is symbolic speech, but I think that is a destructive act. It’s the one thing that unites us.
Yet when it comes to regulating what individual churches may do, or what individual citizens may do under the guise under religion, you are not going to be able to write a constitutional amendment to ban those practices. There is no way to do that. I wish we could hold people accountable for their actions, but under free speech, you can’t.
— Robert Costa is a political reporter for National Review.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been amended since its original posting.