Burning the Quran Can Be Prosecuted in the U.S.
On a recent visit to Mazar-e-Sharif, a northern Afghanistan province where seven U.N. workers were killed by a mob in retaliation for the threat of burning of a Holy Quran in the U.S., I had the opportunity to speak with a group of 30 Afghan teenaged boys.
One of the kids asked me, “why do Americans like burning Holy Qurans?” Like many young people in Afghanistan, he is poor, uneducated and illiterate. He has no running water or electricity in his home and often goes hungry. I told him that Americans, by and large, do not like burning Qurans and that the actions of one selfish and ignorant soul do not represent who Americans are, or what America is about.
I felt an overwhelming sense of patriotism and shared with the Afghan teenagers what America means to me. While America has its flaws, it is a land of tolerance and a celebration of diversity of people from different races and religions. It’s a beautiful place, with beautiful people. Thirty-six years ago it opened its arms and became home to a poor North Korean immigrant woman who escaped civil war, an arranged marriage, and who is the reason for my existence. America and the ideals it represents are the heart and soul of who I am and what I strive to be. It is a land of greatness and insurmountable opportunities. America is love.
They listened intently and politely as I tried to articulate America the beautiful to them. After what I thought was a very passionate speech a 15 year old boy replied, “‘when he burned the Quran, he burned me”. I learned that this kid was an illiterate shepherd and the main breadwinner of his family. As a young child he was forced to go out on the streets to beg for money to feed his family. He never went to school and he is currently estranged from his family. His Islamic faith is virtually the only thing that he can unconditionally count on. Islam is a shining light in his life. To him, Islam is love.
Of course, I believe that those who killed in retribution for the Quran burning should be held accountable for their actions. But I also believe that persons who are engaging in such hateful actions such as burning the Quran should be held accountable for breaching the peace. According to Article 877.03 of Florida law, whoever corrupts public morals or outrages the sense of public decency SHALL BE guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree.
As the only American attorney to ever practice within the legal system in Afghanistan, I am disgusted that any person would engage or even threaten to engage in such self-serving, hateful, and irresponsible actions such as burning a Quran. The threat of such actions have been used as a tool to ignite deadly violence against innocent people across the world. It has incited numerous demonstrations denouncing his actions in Afghanistan and throughout the world. Much of the nation-building aid work that is being done in Afghanistan has been severely undermined as of late and has come to a screeching halt. Such hateful speech has put Americans and other Internationals in an even more precarious security situation in an already volatile environment. Schools have been burned down, people have been killed, and the anger has not stopped.
Article 877.03 of Florida Law is the legal jurisprudence in Florida by which a person can be prosecuted for engaging in such a corruptible moral outrage such as burning the Quran. I would gladly testify in a court of law that I would be disturbed by such actions. This conduct was a breach of my peace. And I find that engaging in such conduct is an outrage to what is publically decent. As a defense attorney who has practiced law in the U.S. I have been witness to persons being charged for lesser breaches of the peace including arguing in public, making rude gestures to persons, etc.
Hateful actions are not blindly protected under U.S. Law. In Virginia v. Black et al. a 2003 decision handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court, it ruled that “cross-burning can be a criminal offense if the intent to intimidate is proven”. Last year a Pastor in Florida was warned by the U.S. government of the negative implications that his actions could place on American civilians and soldiers around the world. Still, he decided to use the Quran as an intimidation tool to effectuate his 60 seconds of fame. Such hateful actions have been condemned by courts for decades and his actions should not be an exception.
To a 15 year old teenage boy, the threat of such actions have been a direct slap in the face to his Islamic faith, which, as for many Afghan children, is the one thing on this earth that keeps him going.
By Kim Motley