Thursday, September 9, 2010

Freedom of Speech and Religion

Do you fully support the freedom of religion and expression in the community? The events of the last few months and the next couple of weeks are testing that resolve.

Pastor Terry Jones of Dove World Outreach Centre in Gainesville, Florida is planning on burning copies of the Koran on September 11, 2010. The pastor has chosen that day because it is the anniversary of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Pastor Jones and the congregation of his church believe that Islam is, in their words, “the devil.”

The pastor of the church and members of his congregation do have the right to freedom of expression. If they feel that this is the best way to present their case about Islam, then they do have the right to make that statement. A few years ago a Dutch newspaper ran an editorial cartoon that Muslim’s considered offensive. Part of the reason the newspaper ran the cartoon was to exercise their right of expression. It was rightfully supported by communities in the West and newspapers across Europe ran the same cartoon in support.

The church also has freedom of religion. A community’s primary foundation must include members having the right to express their religious beliefs in any peaceful manner that best suits them. This includes using church property, personal or real, to fulfill what they consider their mission. An example of this comes directly out of the headlines of the last few months, the mosque that is planned for New York City. The members of the mosque would like to use their property to fully express their religious beliefs just like Pastor Jones, no matter how disrespectful it may seem to other members of the community. The community needs to support both decisions; the building of the mosque and the burning of the Koran; no matter how disrespectful it may seem to others.

There are those that have threaten violence against the pastor, the church and the community if the church does burn the Koran. Some people may carry out the threaten violence. The community must stand against individuals that promote and execute violence, seek them out and bring them to trial.

The church’s true underlying motives should not go unchallenged. The pastor says that he believes Islam is the devil and, “The world is in bondage to the massive grip of the lies of Islam.” Pastor Terry Jones says that he wants to warn of the world of the dangers of Islam and states on the Dove World Outreach website that, “To warn of danger and harm is a loving act.” But it is difficult to see how the burning of the Koran is a loving act or that it will convert anyone to Christianity. It is simply a hateful act that is being done just to get attention. If it will not save anyone from Islam, than the act is a “falsehood” that should be rejected.

But, even though burning the Koran is a disrespectful and outrages act that will not help Pastor Terry Jones’ cause or bring greater understanding to the cause of peace in the community, it is both an exercise of the freedom of expression and of the freedom of religion. The Responsible Community must support those rights. It is the same reasoning that is used in support of the building of the Mosque in New York.

A free community is one that allows each individual, no matter how disrespectful it may seem, to fully express their own religious beliefs in a peaceful manner.