The Washington Post

This week, religion poses perplexing questions in the public square

In this week’s episode of The God Vote, Sally Quinn and Jacques Berlinerblau discuss the global implications of Florida Pastor Terry Jones’ mock trial and burning of the Koran and the riots and murders throughout Afghanistan that it incited.

Some maintain that no matter the content of Pastor Jones’ expression, he was entitled to his unalienable right to free speech. Others find that these rights may in fact be “alienable” in certain extreme situations. The most prominent representation of the latter view was David Petraeus. commander of the International Security Assistance Force, who called Jones’ remarks “hateful” “intolerant,” and “extremely disrespectful.”

Members of Congress such as Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Rep. Mike Rogers (R- Mich.) are not only condemning Pastor Jones’ actions, but are looking to the government to prevent all similar speech that could “inspire the enemy.”

While members of the American government were trying to calm tensions, some believe their counterparts in Afghanistan were doing precisely the opposite.

Hamid Karzai, president of Afghanistan, also publicly condemned the Koran burning and pushed for Jones to be prosecuted for his actions. Whether Karzai’s words can be directly blamed for the violence remains an open question.

Back in America, where do we draw the line between free expression and inciting violence? As Berlinerblau stated in this week’s The God Vote, the American military presence in Afghanistan is based on protecting the American way of life. Constitutional liberties such as freedom of speech are part and parcel of American identity. This makes it all the more important, he argues, that we defend our basic constitutional protections. Yet by maintaining these protections, and letting Jones play the provocateur, we place our troops in harm’s way.

More religion news by way of the United States Supreme Court case: The Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization vs.Winn resulted in the 5-4 decision upholding the state of Arizona’s right to permit an individual taxpayer to direct his or her state income tax to private religious schools. The majority also ruled that individual taxpayers do not have standing to bring suit in these types of establishment clause cases. Such a policy could deprive the state of around $55 million of tax revenues. Instead these funds go to private schools, many of which are religious.

In light of Petraeus’ response to the Koran burnings and the Supreme Court’s decision on the allocations of state funds to some private religious schools, it seems that old secular verities are being challenged by religion’s new role in the public sphere.

When, if ever, do you think it is appropriate for the government to intervene in religious matters?

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