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← Justice Stephen Breyer: Is Burning Koran 'Shouting Fire In A Crowded Theater?'

Justice Stephen Breyer: Is Burning Koran 'Shouting Fire In A Crowded Theater?' - Comments

TheRationalizer's Avatar Comment 1 by TheRationalizer

I love the hypocrisy of this photograph. "We think that burning the Quran should be prevented because it insults a large group of people, and to voice our objection we thought we would.......do this"

Thu, 16 Sep 2010 08:28:00 UTC | #518721

Stevehill's Avatar Comment 2 by Stevehill

If Justice Breyer is saying that muslims may be a special protected class of people that have additional rights because they turn to violence easily, this would be a scary precedent.

That's a colossal "if".

He's saying human beings in general have a right to protection from wholly predictable violence which will ensue if people breach the peace in the way described.

And that's exactly why a South African judge this week banned a Muslim from burning Bibles.

Both judges are right. I could go and stand in certain streets in Belfast and shout out provocative slogans about people's religious views. But I would reasonably expect to get arrested if I did so, assuming I lasted that long.

These are simply public order issues, for which all societies legislate. They are too trivial to be dressed up as some sort of causes celebres in the name of free speech: that confers all too much gravity on the (would-be) perpetrators who are already quite full enough of their own mindless, narcissistic self-importance. The law is right to treat them as it would treat someone being drunk and disorderly: no more, no less. Just a bit pathetic.

Thu, 16 Sep 2010 08:43:05 UTC | #518731

Stevehill's Avatar Comment 3 by Stevehill

I engage with the argument, which is founded on law, having spent a professional career of some decades practising in the field and writing laws in various countries.

You engage in ad hominem attacks.

It's your choice whether you want to render your own argument hopelessly implausible in this manner: please feel free to continue in this vein.

Thu, 16 Sep 2010 09:45:07 UTC | #518748

-TheCodeCrack-'s Avatar Comment 4 by -TheCodeCrack-

I was just stating what Steve hill supports. Was I factually incorrect?

What you are suggesting Steve is that, if there is a real risk that people will act violently in reaction to action 'a', then action 'a' should not be done, indeed should be made illegal perhaps.

Is that an accurate summation? If so, it is appalling.

Surely such an attitude will encourage violence, say, in response to the building of a mosque at ground zero. Now all they have to do is convince people that many people will die in response to such 'an offensive act'!

You're rewarding childish violence.

Updated: Thu, 16 Sep 2010 09:57:08 UTC | #518751

-TheCodeCrack-'s Avatar Comment 5 by -TheCodeCrack-

Steve, may you all inform us of our property rights, and where they stand, if you disallow someone from treating their own personal: table, chair, book, in a way others find offensive?

Thu, 16 Sep 2010 09:54:02 UTC | #518752

-TheCodeCrack-'s Avatar Comment 6 by -TheCodeCrack-

What, I can't scratch my initials into my dark-wood table because members of the "order of the sacred table" will riot violently?

Updated: Thu, 16 Sep 2010 09:56:35 UTC | #518753

-TheCodeCrack-'s Avatar Comment 7 by -TheCodeCrack-

Comment 4 by Stevehill :

I engage with the argument, which is founded on law, having spent a professional career of some decades practising in the field and writing laws in various countries.

You engage in ad hominem attacks.

It's your choice whether you want to render your own argument hopelessly implausible in this manner: please feel free to continue in this vein.

"having spent a professional career of some decades practising in the field and writing laws in various countries."

Now I see where the world went wrong.

Updated: Thu, 16 Sep 2010 10:00:49 UTC | #518756

Carl Sai Baba's Avatar Comment 8 by Carl Sai Baba

To ban an action, involving one's own property, strictly on the argument that it would cause crazy and evil people to violate laws against murder and vandalism, is to take the side of the mafia in a racketeering case.

Welcome to the world of unrestricted civility, where it is illegal to refuse the demands of gangsters, or even to call the police about it, because that will predictably cause the gangsters to get violent.

I think Stevehill holds his current opinion because he doesn't put any value in burning a koran as a rejection and imagines no big loss if we tell people they can't do it. But religious nuts never stop making demands of others. Look at how they behave in their own countries. Sunni and Shia militias aren't burning Korans, and yet they have been murdering each other every day for more than a thousand years. And we know how far European and American nuts went when they had all of the power. The US and UK STILL have the smears of that filth in our law books.

If you think simply not burning a book is going to be the end of their threats, you are only pushing the fight downward to the next generation. Unless we want to slowly convert to theocracy, someone will eventually have to say that we have values as well, and we won't let bullies change them.

Thu, 16 Sep 2010 10:15:28 UTC | #518767

Carl Sai Baba's Avatar Comment 9 by Carl Sai Baba

Comment 4 by Stevehill :

I engage with the argument, which is founded on law, having spent a professional career of some decades practising in the field and writing laws in various countries.

The muslim theocrats have been writing laws for a lot longer than that, and it doesn't make them right either.

Thu, 16 Sep 2010 10:29:58 UTC | #518776

Stevehill's Avatar Comment 10 by Stevehill

If you think simply not burning a book is going to be the end of their threats, you are only pushing the fight downward to the next generation.

What "fight"?

I respect anyone's right to believe anything he wants to believe, as long as he does so peacefully and does not shove it down the throat of my kids, nor expects any government support (whether directly or via tax breaks) to peddle his nonsense. What he does in his own home, or church, with his own money is his business. That's real freedom, and I'll die defending his right to do it.

Burning books is just picking a fight: being deliberately offensive to people who (often) can't help themselves or they way they are. It shows no more maturity than a five year old having a tantrum in the playground.

If people want to behave that way they will get rather less respect, from me at any rate, than the theists they seek to provoke into outrage.

I don't personally believe US judges wake up every morning thinking how best to subvert the Constitution today. Breyer has a point, and it is worth considering.

Thu, 16 Sep 2010 10:57:21 UTC | #518791

Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 11 by Peter Grant

@Stevehill

First you say:

I respect anyone's right to believe anything he wants to believe

Contrast this with:

Burning books is just picking a fight: being deliberately offensive to people who (often) can't help themselves or they way they are.

So which is it? Are beliefs choices which we can be held accountable for or are they like eye colour, something we have little control over?

Also, how can epistemic liberties serve as a basis for claims, powers and immunities in the realm of conduct?

Thu, 16 Sep 2010 11:19:49 UTC | #518801

Fujikoma's Avatar Comment 12 by Fujikoma

@Comment 11 by SteveHill "Burning books is just picking a fight: being deliberately offensive to people who (often) can't help themselves or they way they are. It shows no more maturity than a five year old having a tantrum in the playground." So I'm guessing that the woman that wears something provacative is responsible for being raped because some idiot can't control themselves? Burning a book is not the same thing as killing someone. It's not even the same thing as shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theatre. What you're saying, is that intentionally stating a falsehood to cause a panic is the same thing as intentionally and unequivocally stating/showing a disagreement with a belief system.
These people are grown adults. They probably understand what killing a person will do. I'm sure they understand that burning their special little book upsets them. What you're encouraging, is the association between violence and not having their beliefs questioned. So if you tell them that they can't commit an honor murder and they threaten to kill people unless they get their way, you'll back down because they can't control themselves??? If the woman belongs to their belief system then it's o.k. because she's a part of "their" system??? I really can't even discuss your Mr. Roger's view on life because it isn't even founded in reality.

Thu, 16 Sep 2010 11:36:35 UTC | #518811

Moosebite's Avatar Comment 13 by Moosebite

Congratulations, religious extremists. Terrorism is a proven success.

If these were kids in a school yard, the teacher would tell the book burners not to be arseholes, and tell the religious zealots 'what doesn't kill 'em makes 'em stronger', and the kids would have learned a life lesson.

But (and correct me if I'm wrong here), we're talking about full grown adults!

This should be more of a joke than it is. I can't believe we have to treat this as seriously as we are.

Thu, 16 Sep 2010 14:00:49 UTC | #518968

CarolineMary's Avatar Comment 14 by CarolineMary

You're rewarding childish violence.

And any decent parent knows you don't give in to tantrums.

Thu, 16 Sep 2010 14:36:47 UTC | #518999

mordacious1's Avatar Comment 15 by mordacious1

You guys make interesting points about the main issue, whether I have the right to burn a koran if it's going to cause violence 8 thousand miles away. But there is a secondary issue, Breyer seems to be saying that 40 years ago, the Supreme Court would have upheld my right to perform this act. Today though, with the internet and its ability to spread information far and wide in seconds, these rights need to be curtailed.

I've always looked at the internet as a means of increasing one's freedom of expression. I no longer have to wait for some printer or publisher to give the okay to my writing, I can put anything up (as long as it's legal) and anyone can access it. Now Breyer is saying that because of this ability to disseminate information, rights that I once had, could be retracted. I understand his point, but I'm uncomfortable when governments take away existing rights.

Thu, 16 Sep 2010 15:20:26 UTC | #519051

Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 16 by Peter Grant

Comment 16 by mordacious1

Now Breyer is saying that because of this ability to disseminate information, rights that I once had, could be retracted. I understand his point, but I'm uncomfortable when governments take away existing rights.

I'm not sure I do understand this point, but let's assume it makes sense. How exactly do they plan to go about restricting this ability the internet gives us to disseminate information? They can't even stop people sharing music. Making Quran burning illegal will probably just make it more popular. For example, I'm smoking weed as I type this.

Thu, 16 Sep 2010 15:54:45 UTC | #519085

mordacious1's Avatar Comment 17 by mordacious1

Peter Grant

How exactly do they plan to go about restricting this ability the internet gives us to disseminate information?

Breyer said, according to Stephanopoulos, that he's not prepared to conclude that -- in the internet age -- the First Amendment condones Koran burning. He's not trying to stop the dissemination of the information. He's saying that if the information is disseminated, then we have to be careful of what we allow citizens to do. Someone might find out and get upset. I think this is a scary thing for a justice to say.

Thu, 16 Sep 2010 18:21:02 UTC | #519225

BanJoIvie's Avatar Comment 18 by BanJoIvie

We should be very careful not to read more into Justice Breyer's words than he actually said. I did not find any link to the full GMA interview, so I can't be sure, but I highly doubt - as this article seems to be straining to imply - that Breyer meant to flat out say that burning a Koran is directly equivalent to shouting "fire" and would not be protected. Supreme court justices are notoriously cagey about current issues, especially those which could come before them in some future time. From what I can read in Stephanopolous' article, he merely said it was 'not settled law' (SCOTUS members say things like this all the time in public, or 'I can't prejudge' etc.) and that he would have to remain open and judge any future case on the specifics of the briefs that were presented.

Aparently Justice Breyer has a book coming out and is making the interview rounds to promote it. (Usually Superemes are very shy of the press, mostly because they feel obliged to make very vague answers and don't wish to be pressed on hot-button issues like this one.) I heard him yesterday on NPR's 'Fresh Air' with Terry Gross, and she asked him about the Koran burning. He mentioned the Holmes qquote about shouting "fire" but also mentioned flag burning and noted that it IS protected. Here's a quote from his response:

Justice BREYER: Well, I don't look at those things that - issues and so forth -that might come up in the future, because if they do come up in the future, I'll have the issue in front of me and it will be very, very well briefed. They'll be lots written about it and I'll be able to form a more intelligent opinion. I would say that where you're talking about the freedom of speech and something like this preacher or anything like that, I would keep two cases in mind.

One is years ago, Justice Holmes said you cannot shout fire in a crowded theater because that could kill people. Very well. That sets limits to the freedom of speech. But the court also said where an American flag is being burned in protest, that the Constitution protects that because it is a purely symbolic action which is being done, despite how much people hate it, to express a point of view. So, we probably, were we to have such a case, we'd have to have a law in front of us, see what it says, see what the actions are. But I've given you an outline, which sort of sets boundaries.

The whole NPR interview is transcribed here.

Thu, 16 Sep 2010 19:06:36 UTC | #519264

mordacious1's Avatar Comment 19 by mordacious1

Comment 19 by BanJoIvie

Thanks for the link to the NPR interview, that clarifies his statements for me. I agree with you that justices are not in the habit of commenting on issues that might come before the Court (at least not in a way that would tell how they would lean). Although I seem to remember Scalia doing that a couple of times...I wish I could remember the circumstances.

Breyer's interview with Stephenopoulos is here. The pertinent part begins at 4:35 . Breyer says:

People can express their view in debate, no matter how awful those views are, in debate, a conversation, people exchanging ideas. That's the model. So that, in fact, we are better informed when we cast that ballot. Those core values remain. How they apply...(interupted)

And then he continues with the quotes in the article about the internet and O.W. Holmes.

When he is saying the model is debate/conversation, it seems to be narrowing previous rulings on free speech. Am I wrong about this?

Thu, 16 Sep 2010 21:38:59 UTC | #519393

Neodarwinian's Avatar Comment 20 by Neodarwinian

Justice Breyer saying something and the Supreme Court ruling on something may be two very different things.

Fri, 17 Sep 2010 00:23:23 UTC | #519502

ShoutingQuietly's Avatar Comment 21 by ShoutingQuietly

Hell no it's not like shouting fire in a theatre. This analogy is so seriously flawed, that I don't know where to begin.

  • It's more akin to standing on the stage and saying, in 10 minutes I'm going to shout "Fire" what you do is up to you. If you act like a twat, probably no-one is going to take you to task over it.
  • Even if you were not given 10 minutes warning of some one deliberately shouting fire, from the stage to provoke a reaction. You probably wouldn't fall for it. Not if you had a reasonable well adapted adult brain. Of course if you were a hysterical, spoilt brat, you might be inclined to start a stampede for the door just to get attention, and to hell with anyone who gets hurt.
  • If you don't stand on the stage to shout it, i.e. if you don't announce that you will be burning Qu'ran's to the press. Your voice is likely to get lost in the noise of what is happening on the stage. i.e. you would be small fish as a book burner compared to oh let's say the floods in Pakistan.
  • Christ and Mohammed on a tandem bike. This is too depressing I give up.

    Fri, 17 Sep 2010 01:24:02 UTC | #519530

    Carl Sai Baba's Avatar Comment 22 by Carl Sai Baba

    Comment 11 by Stevehill :

    If you think simply not burning a book is going to be the end of their threats, you are only pushing the fight downward to the next generation.

    What "fight"?

    The fight that is eventually necessary unless we want to cave into their demands that we obey the rules of their religion. This was kind of already explained.

    Burning books is just picking a fight:

    You use a violent description as a metaphor for a non-violent action, while refusing to place the blame on those who actually are violent. You are like those Christians who complain that there is a "war" on Christmas.

    I don't personally believe US judges wake up every morning thinking how best to subvert the Constitution today.

    Hmm, kind of a strawman there.

    Breyer has a point, and it is worth considering.

    I did, and I consider it to be an insulting suggestion that concession and cowardice be legally mandated.

    Fri, 17 Sep 2010 02:30:28 UTC | #519554

    Truthiswonder's Avatar Comment 23 by Truthiswonder

    I understand what you all are saying, but I can't quite wrap my head around the fact that nobody looks at this in a utilitarian way.

    Let's look at it rationally: When we burn the Koran we acknowledge our freedom of speech but retaliations will follow. I don't believe in the "we have to stand up for our rights so they'll stop demanding things from us". Do you really think it will ever stop by doing these actions? If so, how many books do we need to burn in order for them to change their minds? Or how many other actions of disrespect will open their eyes?

    These questions could seem completely plausible if it weren't for the fact that the answers to them are "None". They are so wrapped up in their faith that doing these things isn't enough to open their eyes. If you look at it rationally, and yes it may seem pessimistic, you have to acknowledge the fact that it won't have any use, it will only spur more violence, more retaliations, more of "us against them" thoughts (these are very important), and so on. I for one don't believe it will make them tolerate more from us, I even think they will tolerate less. If you go for this approach, we will have to be going further and start a war. You will have to "crush them and their faith", sort of speak. Is this a necessary outcome? Maybe, but I hope not.

    So is not burning the Koran preferable? I would say yes, as it is the lesser of two evils when looking at the outcomes.

    As an atheist, I too hate that you can disrespect anything except for faith. There must be a way to stop this nonsense, or at least I hope there is. However this is not the way, because the consequences will be the opposite of what we want to achieve. What is the right way? I don't know, I hope in the near future somebody will...

    Updated: Fri, 17 Sep 2010 08:42:36 UTC | #519649

    biame's Avatar Comment 24 by biame

    Hi Mordacious1, I can definitely agree with one thing you have written, pastor Jones is nutty. Therefore, anything he decides to has to be on the nutty side of life. Anybody who shares his view just as nutty in my books.

    I am not too sure pertaining to US Law, albeit, insofar as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UN Charter) is concerned, the burning of Korans breaches many articles, article 30 the main one. To willingly and knowingly incite violence is about as inane as any person can get.

    All this pastor Jones would have shown if he followed through with this stunt, is that he was no better than those who he was protesting against. Two wrongs may make a person feel better, it never makes it right, it can only ever make a greater wrong.

    Fri, 17 Sep 2010 11:52:14 UTC | #519766

    Truthiswonder's Avatar Comment 25 by Truthiswonder

    Biame, great post. Couldn't agree more.

    Fri, 17 Sep 2010 12:32:33 UTC | #519800

    Fujikoma's Avatar Comment 26 by Fujikoma

    Comment 24 by Truthiswonder The short term, what's in in for me' utilitarian view would be against the book burning. It would then wait on the religion to come to its own enlightenment. I'm not trusting that to happen in a reasonable time frame. The long term view would be to not put up with this nonsense because the benefits would outweigh the consequences over time. Dealing with the short term violence to force islam to progress like other religions have done would seem to be the better choice. The preferable would be an instant recognition, but I'm doubting that's going to happen given the historical trend of religion.

    Comment 25 by biame Article 18
    Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance The abrahamic religions frown upon this rather severely. Article 19
    Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. I can burn a book if I feel like it. Doens't matter if it's dumb or insulting. Article 30
    Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein. Burning that book doesn't prevent someone from practicing islam. It doesn't interfere with their rights or freedoms. It's insulting to the practitioner, but that's about it. The flip side would be that professing their beliefs infringes on mine... so it really doesn't work to intrepret it that way. Article 16
    1. Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution. 2. Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses. 3. The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State. Would you allow gays to not marry based on how the third part of this article could be intrepretted. I don't really see where burning the koran is breaching the human rights charter. Even if it did, it's un-enforcable in the U.S. because we have a constitutional right to burn it.

    Fri, 17 Sep 2010 12:57:04 UTC | #519814

    Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 27 by Peter Grant

    Comment 24 by Truthiswonder

    I understand what you all are saying, but I can't quite wrap my head around the fact that nobody looks at this in a utilitarian way.

    Same reason most of us don't like the idea of pushing the fat guy in front of a trolley, even if doing so will save five others.

    Fri, 17 Sep 2010 13:46:05 UTC | #519857

    Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 28 by Peter Grant

    Comment 18 by mordacious1

    He's not trying to stop the dissemination of the information. He's saying that if the information is disseminated, then we have to be careful of what we allow citizens to do.

    It amounts to the same thing. You can stop people protesting publicly, but then they can just post a video on YouTube or something.

    Fri, 17 Sep 2010 17:26:26 UTC | #520036

    biame's Avatar Comment 29 by biame

    Comment 27 by Fujikoma :

    Comment 25 by biame Article 18Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; ........et al.

    Hi Fujikoma, Freedom of thought, has and never will amount to freedom of action. Freedom to talk, has and never will amount to freedom of action.

    The actions of pastor Jones, had he followed through with his nutty plans, are in clear violation to article 30 of the UN Charter.

    Fri, 17 Sep 2010 21:58:13 UTC | #520234

    Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 30 by Peter Grant

    @biame

    Article 30

    Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.

    How does burning a Quran violate Article 30?

    Updated: Sat, 18 Sep 2010 12:27:19 UTC | #520553