After the American Century
The question posed in the headline is prompted by the plan of one pastor of a small church in Florida to burn a copy of the Koran on September 11. This is base publicity seeking of the worst sort, stirring up the passions of the religious right and angering anyone who knows that it says in the American Constitution about religious freedom.
I am not going to name this "leader" or his church, as he already has gotten so much of the publicity he so clearly wants. In Afghanistan a crowd burned him in effigy. The American military has asked the minister to stop, because burning the Koran angers our allies and drives them into the arms of the enemy.
An ecumenical meeting in Washington of leaders from the Catholic Church, the Jewish faith, and the National Council of Churches joined Muslim leaders in condemning these attempts to fuel religious hatred.
Thomas Jefferson thought religious freedom was so important that he drafted a law of religious freedom for the State of Virginia in 1777, in the midst of the Revolution. although it was not passed until after the victory over the British. The law states, in part.
"WE, the General Assembly of Virginia, do enact that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities."
My countrymen might contemplate these words of President Jefferson, along with the Bill of Rights, and then ask themselves: Are not Jefferson and the legislators of Virginia dishonored by the proposal to burn the scripture of any religion?
The Founders felt strongly about religious freedom. The same Virginia law concludes "the rights hereby asserted are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right."
The American Revolution was fought to preserve and protect the natural rights of American citizens. If a misguided clergyman thinks that by burning the Koran he is proclaiming his loyalty to the United States, he is sadly mistaken. He is as good as throwing into the fire Jefferson's law of religious freedom, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence. Religious hatred and bigotry find no justification in American law and they insult the vision of the founders.