Quran burning in Florida protected by U.S. Constitution, says free speech expert

3:11 PM, Sep 9, 2010   |    comments
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A Gainesville pastor's plan to burn copies of the Quran on September 11th is protected as free speech by the U.S. Constitution, according to a Florida attorney who specializes in First Amendment issues.

Robert Rivas says the situation is similar to the landmark flag burning case Texas vs. Johnson in 1989. In that case, Rivas says the U.S. Supreme Court ruled flag burning was an act of protected speech under the First Amendment.

Photo Gallery: Florida minister plans Quran-burning day

"Burning a Quran is definitely, in the absence of any fire code issues, is protected under the First Amendment as symbolic speech just as much as burning the American flag is."

Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville says he is planning to go ahead with the burning on Saturday, the 9th anniversary of the September 11th attacks.

Rivas says there are no local, state or federal laws that would give an agency, like a sheriff's office, the power to stop someone from burning a Quran, and he says if the Legislature or Congress passed a law banning Quran burning, it would be unconstitutional under the First Amendment.

"Imagine how wrong it would be if in this country we surrendered our freedom because of the threat that somebody in some other country is going to get mad at us for exercising our freedom.  That would enable somebody in some other country to make us take away our own freedom without us even having to be invaded to lose our freedom.  It would be bizarre.  I don't think any government agency is even going to think about stepping in to do anything."

However, Rivas says extraordinary situations like the situation in Gainesville often lead to extraordinary legal events.

"It's interesting to wonder about really wild possibilities like could the president of the United States invoke his power as commander in chief of the armed forces or his foreign policy powers to order that this be stopped?  Now I don't think anybody's thinking about doing that but it would be kind of interesting if they tried to do that because there's nothing about historic uses of the president's authority under foreign policy or his role as commander in chief that would enable him to do something like that."

Counter events are planned in Gainesville on Saturday, including a student protest across the street from the Dove World Outreach Center.

More stories on the planned Quran burning:

Dave Heller

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