Tonight I want us to take a break from following the transformational process I've been blogging about. I have a blog entry prepared. It expounds upon the experiences I've had which have led to the choices I'm making which have led to the reflections I'm writing. Blah, blah, blah. Not that it's not important. I wouldn't be spending time on it if it weren't important. We'll get back to that. Instead, I feel that we have to pause - to take a breath, even a selah - and pay attention to the news. I invite you to read, reflect, respond. Here are my thoughts. I look forward to reading yours.
"As to religion, I hold it to be the indispensable duty of government to protect all conscientious protesters thereof, and I know of no other business government has to do therewith." - Thomas Paine (Common Sense, 1776.)
"The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretence, infringed.'' - James Madison (Original wording of the First Amendment; Annals of Congress 434 (June 8, 1789).)
Every man "ought to be protected in worshipping the Deity according to the dictates of his own conscience." - George Washington (Letter to the United Baptist Churches in Virginia in May, 1789)
With Pastor Terry Jones virtually monopolizing the news this week, I felt it would be irresponsible not to engage in the conversation. I am a firm believer that democracy is a gift and a responsibility. That I not only get to receive the benefits of living in a free society, but that I also need to contribute to it - whether by voting, volunteering, or even by simply adding my voice to the national conversation of the moment. I mean - truly - what would have happened if Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, George Washington, James Madison chose apathy, remained silent, decided that the bigger-picture decisions being made by a government far away did not bear the same need for action as the daily demands of a farm (for example)? They each had a voice, and they chose to use it.
Here's my voice.
Today, Pastor Terry Jones decided not to burn the Quran on Saturday after his planned event erupted a firestorm of criticism world-wide (ANTONIO GONZALEZ, Associated Press, 9/9/10 7:45 p.m. yahoo.com online news).
"President Barack Obama urged him to listen to 'those better angels' and give up his 'stunt,' saying it would endanger U.S. troops and give Islamic terrorists a recruiting tool. Defense Secretary Robert Gates took the extraordinary step of calling Jones personally" to ask him to reconsider (ANTONIO GONZALEZ, Associated Press, 9/9/10 7:45 p.m. yahoo.com online news). The list goes on. Every time I've turned on the news or listened to the radio, it's been Terry Jones, Terry Jones, Terry Jones. People are, rightly so, concerned.
There have already been protests to Pastor Jones' planned protest. According to the AP, "in Afghanistan, hundreds of angry Afghans burned an American flag and chanted 'Death to the Christians' to protest the planned Quran burning" (ANTONIO GONZALEZ, 9/9/10 7:45 p.m. yahoo.com online news). There have also been demonstrations, some violent, in Indonesia (http://www.cbsnews.com/8300-503543_162-503543.html?keyword=Terry+Jones). U.S. embassies around the world remain at a heightened state of alert, even though Pastor Jones announced that he had called off the burning of the Qurans.
For those of you who have lived in a media bubble, let me break it down for you:
On the one hand, many people - world leaders, media spokespeople, corporate business leaders - have called on Pastor Jones not to inflame U.S./Muslim relations and fuel Islamic extremism.
On the other hand, some people - relatively few - have wondered out loud whether or not we should even be reporting (or reading about) Pastor Jones' plan. Those folks say we are all giving fuel to a fire that needs to simply die out.
I want to say up front that I agree with both of these 'voices'. I agree that Pastor Jones' protest does not help anyone - Muslims, Christians, U.S. Troops, U.S/Muslim relations. I think what Pastor Jones proposes to do is ignorant, offensive, disrespectful and annoying (for the record, I'm a Christian). I understand (as much as I can, being a white woman living in the middle of the United States) how Islamic extremists perceive this move, how they will use it to prove their point, how many out there will believe their rhetoric and join their cause because of it.
I also understand the logic of the silent treatment. Don't respond. Don't encourage him. If you give it oxygen, it will breathe. If you put it in a vacuum, it will die. The moment General David Petraeus asked Pastor Jones not to burn the Quran, the international media pounced on it and - well, it became a story. We gave it life.
So why didn't General Petraeus keep his mouth shut? Why did he, President Obama, Secretary Gates get involved in something that is so clearly not within their purview? As citizens, they are welcome to, entitled to, their opinions. They are free to express them (heck, I even agree with their opinions!). As politicians, however, they represent the government. They are the government. And it is decidedly not the government's role to engage in coercion of any kind, but especially coercion which involves infringing on the right of a U.S. citizen to express his beliefs.
I believe that Pastor Jones' planned action fell under both the freedom of speech and freedom of religion principles our country was founded on. I absolutely do not agree with him. I do not think it's right to burn any holy book and I don't want our troops to be in danger.
However, I also firmly believe that those troops would be in greater danger if we begin to blur the lines between government and the rights of every American citizen to freely express him or herself. That the minute we begin justifying governmental involvement in blocking a person's right to express is the minute we begin to corrode the very foundation we stand on. The costs of Pastor Jones' annoucement are high, the impact is real, but the cost of controlling his actions is much, much higher (or even attempting to control them). He has the right to offend. As offensive as that is, it's also foundational and, therefore, critical to the success of this experiment called the United States of America.