In response to Justice Breyer’s comments that Koran-burning may be likened to yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater, I’d like to indulge in a bit of dime-store psychology.
Typically, American hecklers will merely shout down speakers, throw pies at them, issue largely empty threats, and vandalize. True political violence is (thankfully) quite rare. Consequently, when courts condemn the “heckler’s veto,” they’re simply codifying constitutional common sense. How can your speech be free if petty disruptions can silence you? Why not use law enforcement to protect free speech?
The violence from Islamic radicals, on the other hand, shocks the conscience. Thousands rioting? Dozens dying? Beheadings? Torture? This level of violence is terrifying. It’s orders of magnitude beyond heckling. The manageable heckler’s veto becomes the unmanageable beheader’s veto, and judges have trouble formulating a response that protects speech and human life.
But here’s the sad reality: The violence exists no matter what we do (or don’t) say. When thousands rioted in Kashmir — ostensibly because of Terry Jones — and 18 men died, can anyone argue that the region would have been peaceful but for the threatened Koran-burning? Islamic terror has existed through virtually every American administration since Truman. It is our very existence that inflames Islamic radicals, not any given act by even the crankiest citizens in our 300 million–strong community.
Bill Clinton had Yassir Arafat in the White House more than any other foreign leader, and radicals bombed the World Trade Center, bombed our embassies, attacked the USS Cole, and hatched the 9/11 plot. George W. Bush went out of his way to portray Islam as a religion of peace, and Hamas, Hezbollah, the Mahdi militia, Fatah, al-Qaeda, and the Taliban launched violent campaigns in Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, Gaza, Indonesia, Britain, Spain, the West Bank, and Lebanon. Barack Obama “changed the tone” in Cairo, and we still face the same radicals with the same intentions while fending off attempted bombings in Times Square and in the air over Detroit.
If we can’t possibly appease the enemy, why even contemplate giving up our freedoms? If heads will roll even if Korans are handled with kid gloves (literally), why preemptively surrender a core part of our constitutional identity? No court ruling can stop Islamic terror, but court rulings can limit our liberty. Let’s leave our constitutional doctrine alone and trust our military to protect our lives.