Time for Terry Jones to wake up and smell the smoke

Pastor Terry Jones is a criminal and his crime was the zealous exercise of free speech.

For those not in the know, Jones is the Florida pastor who planned to have a good old fashioned Quran burning on 9/11 to protest against Muslims - or something like that. Seriously, the man couldn't really give any good reason for wanting to burn the Muslim holy book; maybe he's just a fan of unholy bonfires. Anyway, that isn't the point. The point is, he decided that he was going to burn Qurans and rather than just grab a book of matches and get down to it, he decided to go public and announce his plans. He later rescinded these plans only after President Barack Obama, Gen. David Petraeus and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, among many, many other people, told him it was a really stupid idea.

No harm done, right? Bigoted fellow says he's going to commit a hate crime, well-placed people ask him to please not and he decides to cancel the plans. Everything works out fine for everybody.

Of course not! According to various news sources, there have been riots in India, Afghanistan and Pakistan - all of them fatal, all of them spurred by this pastor's inclination to light up the words of Muhammad like so many birthday candles.

Some people wonder what the big deal is. I was raised Christian but I'm not particularly religious; if you burn the Bible, I'll think you're pretty stupid, but I won't violently protest against you. But look at that sentence: I'm not very religious. When your religion is also your way of life, well, threatening to burn that way of life is a pretty good way to get people inflamed (pun fully intended).

What makes Jones a criminal? After all, it's not illegal to burn religious books: they're books. It's not, in fact, illegal to say you're going to burn religious books. I am going to burn religious books. See, nothing illegal there. So what's the problem?

The problem is the same as exists in the following hypothetical situation. Sit in the middle of a field and yell "Fire!" at the top of your lungs. People might look at you and wonder what sort of drugs you're on, but you're not doing anything illegal. Do the same thing in the middle of a shopping mall and, when the old lady gets trampled trying to get out of Sears, you'll be arrested. Free speech has its caveats.

When what you say freely endangers the lives (or, indeed, takes the lives) of others, you must accept the consequences. And Jones has certainly endangered lives: American soldiers, civil servants of Muslim countries, American civilians abroad, and those who have died protesting his intentions. All of this risk, and the deaths that have come of it, are directly attributed to the rash actions of Jones, whether he followed through on his threats or not.

Jones is a criminal and must be made to face the consequences.

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