Would burning a Qur’an in public violate the First Amendment?

May 16, 2022 • 9:00 am

Here’s one of those hard free-speech cases, and it’s hard for even a diehard free-speecher like me.  It comes from the Wall Street Journal (a news piece, not an op-ed); click to read:

This bears on freedom of speech, although Sweden has no U.S.-style First Amendment and I don’t know how they’d regard a case like this. Instead, I’d like readers to weigh in as if this case were in the U.S.

The skinny: Swedish/Danish right-wing politician Rasmus Paludan, head of Denmark’s anti-immigrant Hard Line Party, set fire to a Qur’an live on Facebook last month. He then announced that he was going to tour Sweden over Easter Weekend burning Qurans: a tour with burnings in different Swedish cities.

Now this is clearly a provocation and, if anything qualifies as “Islamophobia,” this does. It’s not that he has theological disagreements with Muslims, but is simply trying to provoke them by burning their sacred book. He is anti-immigrant, and most immigrants in Sweden are Muslim.

And provoke them he did: the April 18 WSJ reports just the threat of such a tour incited violence:

Police in Sweden said Monday they have arrested dozens of people following clashes over plans by a far-right Scandinavian politician to burn a Quran over Easter weekend.

Over the weekend, people rioted in several cities, throwing Molotov cocktails at emergency vehicles and burning trash cans and a municipal bus.

Four people were injured Sunday when police fired what they said were warning shots above the crowd. One of the people was a police officer who was lightly injured during the clash, said Asa Willsund, spokeswoman for the police department in the East Sweden region.

. . . .Since Thursday [April 14], there have been recurring protests and counterprotests on the stops of his tour, several of which have turned violent.

The riots turned the country’s political attention back onto longstanding tensions between Sweden’s immigrant population, which is largely Muslim, and nationalist parties opposed to Muslim immigration into the country. Sweden’s leadership has been largely focused on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as the country considers renouncing centuries of neutrality to join the U.S.-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

On Friday evening, Mr. Paludan’s supporters clashed with protesters in the central city of Orebro. The clashes spread into a broader riot, with 12 police officers injured and four emergency vehicles set on fire. On Saturday, hundreds of mostly young male protesters rioted in the cities of Malmo and Landskrona in southern Sweden, burning trash cans and throwing Molotov cocktails at police vehicles.

The riots prompted Mr. Paludan to cancel his stop in Landskrona, his party said on Facebook, saying the Swedish state could no longer guarantee his safety.

“We have seen violent riots before. But this is something else,” said National Police Chief Anders Thornberg. “It is serious violence against life and property, especially against police officers. It is very worrying and we will take strong countermeasures. This should not continue.”

I note that in a report from May 13 in The Daily Sabah, Paludan is continuing the Burning Tour—under police protection:

The leader of the far-right Danish party Stram Kurs (Hard Line) burned another copy of the Holy Quran on Thursday under police protection in Sweden.

Rasmus Paludan, who has dual Danish and Swedish citizenship, recently burned copies of the Quran in the Frolunda, Boras and Trollhattan regions of the southwestern province of Vastergotland, which has a large population of Muslim residents.

Around 100 police officers, as well as 10 plainclothes officers from the Swedish intelligence agency SAPO, accompanied Paludan to protect him against counter-demonstrators.

. . .Paludan has burnt the holy book in various cities in Denmark since 2017.

He continued his provocations under police protection during the holy Islamic month of Ramadan this year near neighborhoods home to Muslims and mosques.

Riots broke out in the cities Malmo, Norrkoping and Jonkoping as well as in the capital Stockholm, leaving 125 police vehicles damaged and 34 officers injured, while 13 people were detained.

Now it’s clear from these reports that burning the Qur’an is not a criminal offense in either Sweden or Denmark, for the police protect the burners from the rioters. And I know that burning the Bible is not a violation of the First Amendment in the U.S., either. Here it’s usually done not to provoke, but to make a statement about Christianity. But intent doesn’t matter: what matters to the First Amendment is the likely outcome if violence could be imminent.

Because Muslims are far more easily inflamed by the burning of their sacred scriptures than are Christians, one could argue that burning a Qur’an in front of a group of Muslims in the U.S. violates the First Amendment because it will provoke predictable and imminent violence. As the Brittanica notes, this is “incitement,” and could be construed as one of the exceptions to the First Amendment (the short article on “permissible restrictions on expression” is a good primer on what speech is not protected):

As the Supreme Court held in Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969), the government may forbid “incitement”—speech “directed at inciting or producing imminent lawless action” and “likely to incite or produce such action” (such as a speech to a mob urging it to attack a nearby building). But speech urging action at some unspecified future time may not be forbidden.

But this raises a First-Amendment problem.  Perhaps it’s legal to burn the Qur’an on the Internet or in front of a group of like-minded bigots (see this article for that opinion), but is it permissible to burn it in front of a group of Muslims leaving the mosque on Friday? The latter is almost guaranteed to produce imminent lawless action, as it did in Sweden and Denmark. Would that make such public burnings illegal in America, but only those burnings that will inflame a certain group of religious people?

This may already have been adjudicated in the courts, but I don’t know. and can’t be arsed to find out.  I tend to side with Sweden and Denmark here, as I think that no holy books are off limits from criticism, and that includes burning. But on the other hand, burning the Qur’an may be inciting imminent and predictable lawless action while burning the Bible or the Bhagavad Gita will not.

Of course burning the Qur’an the way Paludan did is an expression of bigotry, but even bigotry is permitted under the First Amendment. Here we have a situation in which, in principle, the same action may be either permitted speech or impermissible speech, depending on the religious group at hand. I suspect that what Paludin did would be legal in the U.S., but I don’t know.

Do weigh in with your opinion: Does an act like Paludan’s constitute impermissible speech when performed in front of one group of believers, but not another (Christians)?

h/t: Williams

55 thoughts on “Would burning a Qur’an in public violate the First Amendment?

  1. AIUI, right-wing preachers in the US have done exactly this on more than one occasion. The short answer to your question seems to be: if the person owns the book they’re burning, and assuming the fire itself is not set illegally, then yup burning it is legal.

    1. Just to clarify that last bit: I expect in the US that setting up your book-burning directly in front of believers or a mosque would be a “time, place, manner” question. ‘Open-burning’ laws vary by state and by location, and legality may also be season-dependent. But with those caveats, I think in most urban areas it’s illegal to just start an open fire on a public sidewalk.

      So, I don’t think their status as believers does or should make it illegal. But unless the demonstrator owns property abutting the mosque and the fire we’re talking about is in their back yard, I expect in a lot of places such demonstrative public burning may be illegal simply because the fire itself is illegal.

      1. Exactly how it looks to me. If burning a pile of brush is legal in a place, then replacing the brush with pages of a book should make no difference, assuming you own material you are burning. This seems straight-forward to me.

        1. In either case, wouldn’t it be the burning that might be illegal – rather than the material that is burnt? i.e. I’m sure there is a fine for unlawful burning, but to apply a punishment specifically to the speech involved would be unconstitutional, right? Or would the latitude in punishing clearly illegal action by authorities be considered a violation of speech?

        2. “… in a place”

          Precisely which place? My buddy’s backyard? In front of the public library?

          How exactly will that permit application pan out?

  2. “This may already have been adjudicated in the courts, but I don’t know. and can’t be arsed to find out. I tend to side with Sweden and Denmark here, as I think that no holy books are off limits from criticism, and that includes burning. But on the other hand, burning the Qur’an may be inciting imminent and predictable lawless action while burning the Bible or the Bhagavad Gita will not.”

    See, but that’s precisely the problem. The First Amendment does not make exceptions based on religious identity. If you belong to a group that will rise to violence at the slightest expression of satire or criticism, that should not be grounds for exemption from 1st Amendment rights for the rest of civilized society.

  3. [ mulls the question ]

    Oh! I think I know the solution (of course, feel free to demolish this ):

    There is no speech that need be invoked.

    Instead, there is a clearly-defined significant public safety hazard. I am dead serious here.

    Usually, municipalities require “burn permits” – such that the fire department is aware a resident is locally and controllably burning – meaning, flames and fire – some sticks, leaves, brush, paper, but no plastic or other such materials which create even more noxious pollutants than “brush”. The burn described above is _not_ a single event (that’d be a distinction as a separate issue), but a deliberate spectacle, prone to getting out of control – how about wind?

    So I’d say – if I follow – shut that sh!t down! What a damn reckless spectacle putting EVERYONE and EVERYTHING in harms way, and draining the attention if those tasked with public safety!

    1. Alternatively, the guy could have a tank of bleach – or a shredder – that’d be no problem!

      Which shows that the flames and fire are being used entirely for their flashy appearance as in a dramatic presentation.

    2. He’s not yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater – he’s likely SETTING fire to a crowded theater.

    3. I disagree. If he burns the book safely (the fire will not spread) he should be allowed to do it. If burning a book offends some religious fanatics that is the fanatics problem. The idea that it is okay to commit violence against people and destroy property because your feelings were hurt is not supported by any reasonable law system. Yes, he is provoking them, but the provocation is something that should NOT actually provoke any reasonable person. He is trying to make a point, and he is clearly succeeded in making his point. If you give in to this then you are giving in to every irrational desire of every fanatic.

      1. “If he burns the book safely (the fire will not spread) …”

        He needs to put that in writing and sign it.

        “… he should be allowed to do it.”

        But it is not one book.

        It is some unspecified number of books, as part of an unspecified number of traveling show performances – do-it-yourself entertainment for fans in open public spaces across the country. And there are safer ways to destroy a book as a spectacle than open flames.

        Where, I’d ask, is the written “speech” involved, and how does is depend on a flaming object?

      2. I’d say “safely” must be “in accordance with local fire laws.” I don’t care how safe a person claims they are being, if it’s illegal for the fire to be there, then adding a Koran to the blaze doesn’t make it legal.

        And I think this is going to scupper quite a few “road show in front of the mosque” ideas, since doing it right in front of a mosque will typically mean doing it on a public sidewalk or on someone else’s property who didn’t give you permission…and both of those things are likely to be illegal.

        Now if you want to burn it in your legal fire pit on your property, record the event, and upload it to youtube, then that’s legal. And it has already been done. Several times, I believe – I think there’s one preacher who does it as an annual event.

        1. I painted a depressing view of limits to speech in Canada. However one thing we do allow you is to break certain laws if the purpose is protest.

          For example to remain on foot or stop your vehicle in a public roadway is to violate the provincial Highway Traffic Act. To stand in a public roadway and menace passers-by, impeding their passage is a Criminal Code offence. (Trespassing on private property is more complex.). But to stand in a roadway blocking traffic as part of a peaceful protest is lawful even without a parade permit, says our Supreme Court. Eventually the police will clear you off the street and onto the sidewalks but as long as you comply with their instructions you won’t be arrested.

          As to fires, …
          Labour unions on strike traditionally burn fires in empty 45-gal oil drums in impromptu locations on picket lines to keep picketers warm. (Canada is a cold country.). Native protestors typically light sacred smudging fires wherever they feel like it, ignoring bylaws about fires. Perhaps your Qur’an fire would be indulged by the police as a protected protest activity even if it would be otherwise illegal. So an illegal fire might indeed become legal if you tossed a Qur’an into the flames, or burned someone in effigy. Be careful with accelerants, though.

  4. Would burning a Qur’an in public violate the First Amendment?

    No.

    I’ve read the First Amendment. I reproduce it here because I’m about to make an argument about its wording and readers outside the USA may not be fully aware of what it says:

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    I gather that case law has widened the term “congress” to mean “US or state governments”. Anyway, the amendment places restrictions on what the government can do. It doesn’t apply to ordinary citizens at all and so it would be nonsense to claim a private citizen can violate the First Amendment. The only people who can violate the first amendment are those in government.

    Could Congress make a law banning the burning of the Qur’an? I don’t know. I don’t think so, but perhaps they could make a law banning the incitement of violence and burning a Qur’an with the knowledge that it would incite violence could therefore be seen as illegal (I think). I’m not a lawyer, much less an American one.

    1. I’m open to correction from Ken, but as I understand it the legal concept of “incitement” is not “leads to”, rather, it is (Oxford Dictionaries) to “urge or persuade (someone) to act in a violent or unlawful way.”

      This distinction really is important.

      1. Agreed. Otherwise, I could shut down speech easily just by threatening “if you say X, I’ll go and assault some people”. If you had any reason to believe that I was serious in my threat, you couldn’t say X without breaking the law.

        1. > In Texas v. Johnson (1989), the Supreme Court redefined the scope of the fighting words doctrine to mean words that are “a direct personal insult or an invitation to exchange fisticuffs.” There, the Court held that the burning of a United States flag, which was considered symbolic speech, did not constitute fighting words.
          https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/fighting_words

          Unless the book burner is inviting people to riot in response, it’s probably not fighting words.

  5. I think there may be an important distinction between provocation and incitement. Also, I don’t know if if would be right for the legal system to be so condescending to a specific group of people, as in those ultra-religious Muslims cannot keep themselves in check, therefore we must restrict everyone’s freedom. That’s like saying women can’t wear provocative clothes because those brutish men out there won’t be able to control themselves.

    1. My reply elsewhere in the thread about “fighting words” has not yet cleared. But if you’ll forgive the repetition, the factor of “provocation” seems to belong with a different exception principle, the “fighting words” doctrine.

  6. I think burning the Koran is clearly protected speech and should be allowed. I don’t even think it’s a “hard case”. Rather, it’s a necessary principle that we need to maintain.

    Getting pedantic, the question isn’t so much “does burning the Koran violate the First Amendment?”, more, is burning the Koran outside the protection of the First Amendment? Burning the US flag is not, nor should burning the Koran be.

    Further, the usual concept of “incitement” to violence is that the speaker must desire the violence. So “attack and kill them!” is incitement to violence. But speech that receives an unwanted violent response is not “incitement”. You have to ask for something to “incite” it.

    If we extend the concept to “you mustn’t speak in ways that others will respond violently to” then we allow anyone to shut down any speech by threatening a violent response.

    Lastly, I disagree that burning the Koran is necessarily bigotry. An ex-Muslim (for example) would have every right to burn it as an expression of their feelings about the religion. (Though the Swedish gentleman this case may be a bigot, not sure, I don’t know him.)

    Nor is it “Islamophobia”, a propaganda term that should be dropped. It is not an “irrational fear” to see fault in Islam and thus to criticise it.

    1. You nailed that four ways from Sunday, Coel. That’s why I love the United States.

      Because some commenters have some doubts that the Qur’an burner really would be protected in the U.S., or even ought to be, I offer two insights from actual events in a nearby and superficially similar jurisdiction where s/he would not be protected. Our protection of freedom of speech goes only as far as a judge says it does.

      In Canada it would depend on an interplay between how scary and violence-prone the target group is and how much fear/sympathy the group enjoys with media and government organs.

      A man was arrested for an action likely to breach the peace when he paraded alone with the flag of Canada in front of a phalanx of Indigenous thugs (“land defenders”) who were blockading access to his house while the police did nothing (else). The natives occupied his house and trashed it. He eventually received an out-of-Court settlement (rumoured to be enormous) with the police force and the Ontario government, i.e., the taxpayers, who failed to protect his rights. The arrest over the flag was peripheral to his larger case. (The Natives are still on the land, formerly known as Douglas Creek Estates, the other rightful owners having been quietly bought out by the government, i.e., the taxpayers.)

      During the Ottawa Freedom Convoy, police urged counter-protestors to stay home. Eventually they started showing up anyway with red hammer-and-sickle flags and signs calling for the gassing of the unvaccinated. The convoy participants had by this time shown themselves to be not provokable—they only laughed at them—and both the peace and freedom of speech were preserved without arrests.

      Edit: To this day the police do not allow counter-demonstrators to approach Indigenous blockades, and Court injunctions against a blockades, which the police do not enforce, typically bar any person from entering a defined exclusion zone near the blockade, which the police do enforce. The effect, intended or not, is to create the impression that the blockades enjoy wide public support because no one shows up to protest against them for the TV cameras.

      Moral of story: if you are widely perceived as willing and able to respond to provocation with violence, those who might provoke you will be enjoined from acting.

      1. Somebody made this point to Ann Landers during the Vietnam war, when burning the U.S. flag was standard theatre at anti-war protests. She reminded him of the difference. So you are about 50 years late with the observation. But it’s good to be reminded.

  7. Don’t you mean “Would an arrest of someone burning a Qur’an in public violate the First Amendment?”

  8. Would burning a Qur’an in public violate the First Amendment? No. Would it be prudent to do so in the middle of a practicing muslim community? Also, no.

  9. Burning an important book of any sort (Qur’an, Torah, Origin of the Species, Sociobiology) I wouldn’t put in the category of “Free Speech”, but instead “Incitement to Riot.” Also note that the 1969 ruling: “As the Supreme Court held in Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969), the government may forbid “incitement”—speech “directed at inciting or producing imminent lawless action” and “likely to incite or produce such action” (such as a speech to a mob urging it to attack a nearby building).” is exactly what Trump and his congressional comrades did on January 6th 2021.

    1. This is wrong. The words “directed” “and” “likely” are all important here. The book burner must be telling people to riot and it must be probable that they will.

  10. It is not all that easy to do. There are so many things one can miss if one is not mindful: Terry Jones, for example, did not have a license plate on his trailer, was unlawfully carrying a firearm, and was unlawfully conveying fuel.

  11. I’d like readers to weigh in as if this case were in the U.S.

    Easy case, I think. If desecrating the American flag is protected by the First Amendment — and it is, see Texas v. Johnson — I don’t see how desecrating a holy book warrants a different outcome. Both turn on free speech; burning a Qur’an wouldn’t implicate either the Establishment or Free Exercise religion clauses.

    Then again, given SCOTUS’s current composition, maybe Texas v. Johnson is on the hit list, too. After all, the president who appointed three members of the Supreme Court bench, Donald Trump, sought to make flag-burning a crime.

    Dunno whether the Federalist Society vetted them on this issue.

  12. Congress (or the states) could not make a law banning the burning of a Koran; that was settled by the Supreme Court holding that American flags could be burned. There could, of course, be time, place, and manner restrictions, but such restrictions could not be so constituted as to be an effective ban. To my mind, a crucial distinction, made by other commenters, is between provocation and incitement. If you urged immediate violence while burning a flag/Koran/Bible, that would be incitement. If you condemned America/Islam/Judaism/Christianity while doing so, some may think that provocative, but, legally, that’s their problem. If provocation were considered an exception, then the angriest, most violence-prone, people would control what could be said publicly.

    GCM

  13. I cannot imagine that this would ever be considered constitutionally impermissible speech. I think that inciting people to violence is entirely different from baiting people into violence.

    Would it be impermissible to raise a sign saying “Trump Lost” at the Jan. 6 protest / insurrection? That group might be easily incited into committing violence against the sign-holder.

    Whereas, I do see that holding a sign saying “Join me in a Governmental take-down” as they marched from the rally site to the capitol building would be a clear incitement to violence.

    1. IANAL but I would push back on your characterization of your “Join me in a Governmental take-down” example as “a clear incitement to violence”.

      I think quite a bit of the standard rests on the “is likely to incite or produce” part of the equation. I imagine it would be quite hard to prove that Joe Blow was influential enough and/or that enough people in the crowd were directed precisely by his sign that Joe Blow as an individual was inciting violence.

      If it were a cult leader like Trump holding the sign, I can see it being an easier argument to make.

    2. I think that inciting people to violence is entirely different from baiting people into violence.

      Therein lies the ostensible difference between “incitements to imminent lawlessness” under Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969) and the so-called “fighting words” doctrine first articulated in Chaplinsky v New Hampshire (1942).

      The continuing vitality of the “fighting words” doctrine is somewhat in doubt. The primary objection to it is that it tends to give those opposing free speech a so-called “heckler’s veto.”

  14. No, a private individual burning a book does not violate the First Amendment.

    That said, I hope people look up Rasmus Paludan on Wikipedia. I rarely single out politicians, but he is the single creepiest one I’ve run across.

  15. With hundreds of millions of Korans in print, what difference does it make if one of them goes up in smoke? After all, if 10,000 of them went overboard in a shipping accident that would be no more than a commercial loss.

    To answer my rhetorical question, the difference is that burning just a single one in public can be counted on to provoke these Swedish Muslim immigrants to react with mob violence. And to us Westerners, that strongly suggests that they are deeply insecure in their beliefs, and need to demonstrate such a reaction in order to shore up an appearance of “submission to the will of gawd” (that is after all what “Islam” means).

    Whereas if they publicly burned a copy of The Origin, or the Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen de 1789, I’m pretty sure we would all just shrug and say “have you considered the carbon footprint of that stunt?”

    Maybe the Swedish Muslims could try this instead: point and laugh. Don’t make it so easy to be led by few rightwing nutcases. It’s not a good look.

    1. Before he went woke and insane, one of the better things that PZ did was to desecrate a copy of The God Delusion in order to make this point.

  16. “With hundreds of millions of Korans in print, what difference does it make if one of them goes up in smoke?”

    How big a Koran are we talking about, how far from the nearest fire hydrant, hospital, elementary school, etc?

  17. The wrong question begets the wrong answer. Neither verbal nor expressive speech can violate the First Amendment because the Free Speech Clause is a restriction on federal, state, and local governments, not on people. The right question is whether burning a Qu’ran, the American flag, or any other deeply symbolic article ever may come within one of the limited circumstances under which a governmental actor may limit speech?

    The Brandenburg incitement standard requires more than a showing that the speech is likely to result in violence. Otherwise, we would have constitutionalized the heckler’s veto. As Justice Harry Blackmun wrote for the Supreme Court in Forsyth County v. Nationalist Movement, 505 U.S. 123, 134-135 (1992): “Speech cannot be financially burdened, any more than it can be punished or banned, simply because it might offend a hostile mob.” (The issue in Forsyth was the constitutionality of a local ordinance that authorized “vary[ing] fees for assembling or parading to reflect the estimated cost of maintaining public order.” Id., 505 U.S. at 124.)

    Also, Brandenurg’s imminency requirement has been said to be “built for stopping speech in progress, not for banning future expression …. Brandenburg is triggered only when an individual actually starts to speak.” Clay Calvert, Reconsidering Incitement, Tinker and the Heckler’s Veto on College Campuses: Richard Spencer and the Charlottesville Factor, 112 Nw. U. L. Rev. Colloquy 19, 119 (2018) (emphasis deleted). On this view, it would be necessary to wait until the speaker started burning the Qu’run before an assessment could be made.

    In all events, the assessment, I think, would have to go to whether the speaker, that is, the would-be burner, was acting with the purpose of stirring bystanders to violence. It’s the difference, following another comment, between haranguing a crowd to march on the Capitol to unlawfully stop the election count and holding up signs opposing that line. The reason is to avoid state sanctioning of a heckler’s veto. Absent a showing that a limited exception to restraining speech applies, the state’s obligation is to protect the speaker.

    Finally, I’m intentionally ignoring ways of dodging the Free Speech question, such as a city ordinance against open fires, because the hypothetical always can be revised to eliminate such distractions.

  18. Coel points out above that “If we extend the concept to “you mustn’t speak in ways that others will respond violently to” then we allow anyone to shut down any speech by threatening a violent response.” In fact, this threat of the heckler’s veto is already widely employed by groups on US college campuses, particularly to block any speech favorable to a small MiddleEastern state which was mandated in 1947 by UN General Assembly in Resolution 181.

    As for me, if anyone threatened discourtesy to Tom Weller’s wonderful books “Science Made Stupid” and “Culture Made Stupid”, I would of course respond by throwing Molotov cocktails at the nearest emergency vehicle. [For Weller’s glorious version of the Periodic Table of Elements, see: https://www.besse.at/sms/matter.html . ]

  19. There is a cultural difference in how Muslims view the Qur’an vs. how Christians view the Bible. I have seen the Qur’an described as “God’s tangible presence in the world.” In a sense, the word of God IS God and is sacred. This is more like how the bread and wine IS the body and blood of Christ (to Catholics anyway). The Christian sense of the Bible is not the same. It is words on a page.

    Of course, I would not be here if I believed in ANY of this stuff but there are people who do. Such displays are likely to inflame them. We can condemn the ensuing violence but we shouldn’t be surprised.

    So my question then is: What is the purpose in burning a Qur’an? In front of a like-minded group it may be just a little performative “venting the spleen”. In front of believers it seems as though one is TRYING to stir violence. I suspect the reason is to point a finger and say “See? We cannot live with Muslims and we need to drive them from our midst!”

    In the end I believe in the U.S. burning or defacing of the Qur’an or any other religious symbol would be/should be considered protected speech. But I don’t burn flags, deface houses of worship, burn “holy” books or generally get all up in the business of other people just to start fights. That feels like fighting ignorance with ignorance.

    1. ” What is the purpose in burning a Qur’an?”

      One purpose would be to demonstrate refusal to be intimidated by religious ideas. Like participating in Draw Mohammed Day or driving a nail through a Bible. Not something I would be likely to do but I understand the sentiment. The religious love to make nonbelievers comply with their beliefs and there is value in refusing to comply.

  20. Translations or Arabic Korans? May make a difference. I understood they do not believe you can properly translate it…?

    1. Are they really going to pull the book from the flames and examine it to verify that it is THE Qur’an, and not just a copy of an old Chicago telephone directory with a suitable religious motif drawn on the cover?

  21. Legally, Sweden Denmark, and Norway are quite similar on these issues. There are very few considerations that can limit Freedom of speech. One of these is ‘hate speech’ – but that has to be directed at people, not at symbols that some people may attach special meaning to. If you protect books, or other symbols, because these symbols are imbued with special meaning derived from eg religion – then you are in effect placing religious belief above law, and favouring certain religions above others. (Which is also prohibited in th US by the 1st.) Important to note that Paludan did not seek out Muslims, they found him (and came prepared with carloads of ammunition, including cobblestones). Interestingly, following these riots, both Swedish and Norwegian police have barred planned Qur’an burnings outside mosques during prayer – but using somewhat muddled reasoning more like ‘this could get nasty’ rather than thorough consideration of freedom of speech vs hate speech and incitement (the police can’t rule on these issues). Which is unfortunate, as Paludan has negligible popular support, but many are now worried that his actions may actually backfire and lead to limits on free speech.

  22. It seems like the burning itself is a protest. The ADL helpfully defines a protest as “An event or action where people gather with others to publicly express their opinions about something that is happening in society.”

    Whatever other motives Paludan might have for his traveling roadshow, it must be admitted that rising Islamism is an issue of importance to people in Sweden and Denmark. Arguing that Islamic people are too violent and unpredictable for such provocations seems only to prove his point.

    Coincidentally, I have started and attended exactly one protest in my life. A religious group was hosting a burning of non KGV Bibles, Korans, and other books and music that they felt were blasphemous. I showed up to counter protest, as did a few others. Their book burning was held on their own property, and presumably used materials that they acquired legally. The counter protest was also legal and completely peaceful, taking place on the sidewalk nearby. That is how it is supposed to work. They made their statement, and we pointed out that people who hold book burnings are associating themselves with some very unpleasant groups.

  23. I know of a once-prominent atheist who tore up a Koran, soiled it with banana peel and coffee grounds, and then threw it in the trash. Now he isn’t islamophobic. Not a bit. I know this because he said so. As did his horde.

  24. Just to clarify my previous remarks on the Qur’an: the Bible too is full of invented fables. But there are 2 big differences: 1. Christians don’t claim their god wrote the Bible. They admit it was written by individual men, often with divine inspiration, and they ignore huge chunks of the Old Testament, which are functionally canceled. 2. and more importantly, the Bible relays a bunch of fables along with actual historical accounts, some of which are fairly accurate. But the sura I mentioned about the qibla was obviously forged and inserted at a later time in order to cover up some hanky-panky, namely changing the location of Mohammed’s life 600 km southward and pretending the action had been in Mecca when it had actually been in Petra. See video The Mecca Mystery: Are Muslims Praying In The Wrong Direction? https://youtu.be/JOWFPTzK7D4 Starting about minute 48 the narrator explains the switcheroo.

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