Koran desecration arrest flushes away free speech
iStockphoto.com In the United States, it’s legal to burn the country’s flag; it’s legal to put a Christian cross in a glass of urine and call it art; and it’s legal to create a painting of the Virgin Mary that incorporates elephant dung. Despite the fact that many people understandably find these acts to be highly repugnant ...
In the United States, it’s legal to burn the country’s flag; it’s legal to put a Christian cross in a glass of urine and call it art; and it’s legal to create a painting of the Virgin Mary that incorporates elephant dung. Despite the fact that many people understandably find these acts to be highly repugnant and offensive, they are protected as free speech.
Last Friday, however, a 23-year-old man was arrested on hate-crime charges after surveillance photos linked him to two incidents of throwing Korans into toilets at Pace University in New York. Granted, the behavior was offensive and inappropriate: It does not elevate the debate about Islam and terrorism.
But in the compelling interest of protecting free speech, this man’s alleged Koran flushings should be treated as property crimes, not hate crimes. He appears to have taken the Korans from the university’s meditation room. If true, then he should be charged with theft. If the toilets’ plumbing was damaged, then he should also be charged with vandalism.
In fact, Pace University initially classified the first book flushing as an act of vandalism, but later referred it to the hate crimes unit of the New York Police Department. If the university wishes to punish such asinine behavior, then as a private university, it has the right to establish a code of conduct that takes disciplinary action against those who create a hostile environment on campus.
Free speech is essential for democracy. It doesn’t require us to agree with what everyone says, but it does require us to tolerate—and even defend—the right of others to express themselves in offensive ways.
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