A judge in South Africa has outlawed the burning of Bibles, planned by a Muslim activist as a response to the now-cancelled burning of Qurans in Florida.
This is interesting in so many different ways. One our dearest freedoms is the freedom of speech, and we consider many acts to be protected speech. So while tremendous pressure was brought to bear against Pastor Terry Jones to get him to call off the Quran burning, it would not occur to most Americans that burning a religious book could be illegal. People in South Africa do not have that same freedom.
We also have limits to free speech. You can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater. And defamation (libel and slander) is illegal, because it harms someone. But doesn’t the burning of a holy book harm lots of people? Should it be illegal here?
Personally, I’m glad it is not illegal, because who is to say what is holy and what is not. I’d be the first person out there suing someone who burned the image of the Flying Spaghetti Monster if burning holy documents were illegal.
Secondly, it is interesting because the group that sought the injunction against the Bible burning is an Islamic group called Scholars of the Truth, who consider the burning of any religious books offensive (not just Islamic ones). Other Muslim groups in South Africa were also on record against the burning of Bibles.
One reason for this is that Muslims also consider Jesus to be a prophet who is part of the Quran, so burning the Bible would be in effect burning part of the Quran. Apparently, some Christian pastors are not so enlightened.
After the verdict, the person who had planned the Bible burning was actually happy he was stopped. “Luckily they stopped me from doing it.”
But the best thing to come of this whole mess is the response from the locals in Gainesville, FL, who came out actively against the pastor’s proposed burning of the Quran. For example: “He doesn’t represent the community. This guy is obviously a publicity hound and a weirdo.” and “He’s a lunatic. … I don’t want this to represent my neighborhood.”
UPDATE: People in Amarillo, Texas also came out to protest a planned Quran burning. One person stole his lighter and another grabbed the Quran and gave it to an Islamic leader who was there to protest. Maybe there’s hope for us after all.