Quran-Burning Pastor Terry Jones’ Arrest Could Be Unconstitutional, Experts Say

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Jones was arrested before he could torch 2,998 Qurans on the 12th anniversary of 9/11


Terry Jones, the Quran-burning pastor based in Gainesville, Fla., says his Wednesday arrest by Polk County police was pre-planned to prevent his First Amendment-protected book bonfire. Free speech experts say if that's true, his arrest was unconstitutional.

Jones was arrested after traveling in a truck that police say was towing 2,998 kerosene-soaked Qurans inside a large grill. He said he intended to burn one Quran for each of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Previous Quran-burnings by Jones have been blamed for murderous rampages in Muslim countries, and this year's plan was condemned by many locals.

"We were definitely targeted," Jones told WTVT-TV after his Thursday release from jail. "They were looking for something." Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd disagreed, and accused Jones in a released statement of inviting arrest by transporting the Qurans in a smoker-trailer grill that lacked registration.

Written By: Steven Nelson
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  1. ” Jones was arrested after traveling in a truck that police say was towing 2,998 kerosene-soaked Qurans inside a large grill.”

    Carrying fuel illegally? Gun Charge?

    Looking at the picture of the towed trailer one could surmise that the charging could have been more imaginative and accurate. No legal beagle am I but towing such a large incendiary device through populated areas ought to violate many laws while staying with Constitutional boundaries as to charging these nut bags.

    • In reply to #2 by A3Kr0n:

      There were so many better ways to do this. Terry doesn’t seem too sharp, does he?

      Fundamentalist pastors rarely are… except the ones who just pretend to believe in order to make trailer-loads of money. This pastor tends to spend his congregation’s money on trailer-loads of (un)holy books and high-priced gasoline for religious propaganda. A sure sign of a true believer.

      But like it or not, he’s right about the constitutional aspect of his actions: he has a right to burn any book he owns. Regardless of the content of those books. The only possible legal action that can be taken is to try and nail him on some kind of city or state law making it illegal to make a fire in a public venue for safety reasons.

      There is always the hate propaganda claim but in order to have a case, one needs proof like a recorded speech or a published document overtly inciting people to repression and/or violence against a group of individuals on the basis of race, ethnicity or religion.

      • In reply to #4 by NearlyNakedApe:

        In reply to #2 by A3Kr0n: “…one needs proof like a recorded speech or a published document overtly inciting people to repression and/or violence against a group of individuals on the basis of race, ethnicity or religion.”

        You mean like The Quaran?

    • In reply to #2 by A3Kr0n:

      There were so many better ways to do this. Terry doesn’t seem too sharp, does he?

      I wouldn’t assume that. What Terry wants is fame, he is no different than a Youtube or Twitter “star” for him more people coming to his church, attending his rallies, and going to his web site means more chances to sell crap to suckers. IMO that is all he cares about not about combatting Islam.

  2. I don’t agree with what this guy was doing, but if they arrested him just because he was going to burn those Qurans then that’s ridiculous. He has the right to express his thoughts without interference from the gov’t. Besides who cares if he is burning fictional books like the Quran he minds well throw the Bible in there as well.

    • In reply to #3 by bjchiaro50:

      I don’t agree with what this guy was doing, but if they arrested him just because he was going to burn those Qurans then that’s ridiculous. He has the right to express his thoughts without interference from the gov’t. Besides who cares if he is burning fictional books like the Quran he minds well throw the Bible in there as well.

      I think I would care if the works of fiction Pastor Smith or those like him took it upon themselves to burn included Bleak House, The Catcher in the Rye, the five volumes of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy, or anything by Dashiell Hammett, Jim Thompson, Roger Hargreaves, Michael Bond, Sue Grafton or Val McDermid.

      I think I’d care quite very much indeed thank you kindly.

  3. A quandary. I’m opposed to book burning on principle and I’m also opposed to deliberately provocative actions designed to achieve nothing more then to offend. On the other hand, I’m even more opposed to accommodating people who get into a murderous rage on account of perceived offence caused to an imaginary being by the burning of a book.

    • Nice post. I agree with you. A quandary, indeed.

      In reply to #5 by paulmcuk:

      A quandary. I’m opposed to book burning on principle and I’m also opposed to deliberately provocative actions designed to achieve nothing more then to offend. On the other hand, I’m even more opposed to accommodating people who get into a murderous rage on account of perceived offence caused to an i…

    • In reply to #5 by paulmcuk:

      A quandary. I’m opposed to book burning on principle and I’m also opposed to deliberately provocative actions designed to achieve nothing more then to offend. On the other hand, I’m even more opposed to accommodating people who get into a murderous rage on account of perceived offence caused to an imaginary being by the burning of a book

      I’m ignoring the specifics of this particular action because it’s not worth my time to learn the details about anything this guy does but the abstract question is not a quandry for me at all. The US constitution guarantees free speech. Period. How lunatics may react to speech doesn’t enter into the question.

  4. The trailer looks specially designed for Koran burning, it even has an ash pit door.

    However, as far as I am concerned if he owns the books then he’s entitled to burn them if he is so inclined even if he is a prat intent on stirring up mayhem.

    Sporadic book burning is not just a tradition among imbeciles when they really get organised they burn down entire libraries. Both xtians and muslims burnt down the library at Alexandria and that was full of irreplaceable hand written works, not machine printed tat.

  5. Jones was arrested after traveling in a truck that police say was towing 2,998 kerosene-soaked Qurans inside a large grill.

    “They were looking for something.”

    Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd disagreed, and accused Jones in a released statement of inviting arrest by transporting the Qurans in a smoker-trailer grill that lacked registration.

    The issue seems simple. Impound the trailer and prosecute Jones for using an unregistered trailer on a public road while transporting a dangerous flammable load in an unsuitable vehicle! The 9/11 date will be long gone before the matter gets to court!

    I don’t know about the local laws, but flammable liquids must usually be transported in sealed containers which do not leak in order to be legal in most places.

  6. “Jones has a constitutional right to burn Qurans, even though others may be offended by it,” Volokh said.

    Yes, he does have a legal right to burn Qurans, but that right is in no way based on his crazy religious beliefs. This is a freedom of expression issue. He has the right to express his stupidity. I’d rather see an atheist zapping them with lasers, but that’s just my personal preference.

  7. The police are required to “Keep the Peace” in addition to upholding individual rights. This guy was obviously about to violate the peace by promoting hatred. This intended act simultaneously zeros in on both of those principles.

    There are countless tens of thousands of people living in harm’s way regarding fanatical Islamic loons around the planet. No doubt these “fanatics” will feel the need to exact revenge on several of these innocent people as a result of this book burning act. That’s quite a dilemma for law enforcement. What should they have done?

    We can debate it until the cows come home, but it seems to me that preservation of life should trump all.

    • In reply to #12 by holysmokes:

      The police are required to “Keep the Peace” in addition to upholding individual rights. This guy was obviously about to violate the peace by promoting hatred. This intended act simultaneously zeros in on both of those principles.

      So we should cede our Constitutional rights for fear that it might offend people. But it’s OK to burn the American flag. This is a perfect example of what Dawkins and others complain about that we are giving Muslims special rights not to be offended while upholding free speech to offend people for everything else. If the Tea Partiers got upset at a flag burning and started killing people for it we wouldn’t blame the flag burner. Why do Muslims get special rights not to be offended?

      Are you equally offended at Westboro Baptist Church? Do they promote hatred? Should they be arrested?

  8. A few pointers for the pastor.

    1) The more books you burn, the more will be printed. Look at Yad Vashem

    2) The 1791 First Amendment doesn’t cover towing books soaked in kerosene.

    3) Will you burn 1,505,416 Torahs for the people killed by the Israelites (Genesis – 2Chronicles).

    4) How many Gospels will you burn for all those killed by Christians.

    5) The US owns 50% of Saudi oil (Aramco), why not seize the other 50% to stop the silly beggars financing terrorists. You know the 5th Fleet can do it. No sweat. Go for it.

  9. As far as I can tell, Terry Jones is dumber than a bag of hammers, but let us suppose for a moment that he had followed all the proper transportation rules and was ready to light up those books with the authorities watching. He was within his constitutional rights to do so as an act of free speech, no matter how offensive to most. There are public safety restrictions on this right, commonly characterized by reminding folks that you don’t have the right to falsely cry “FIRE!” in a crowded theater. However, this case is about a potential insult that might result in tragic events such as riots, not about misleading people into panic, and it is about prior restraint, not punishment after the fact. All of which makes this tricky, and unsettling, in general.

    With a good lawyer, I suspect that Jones can get the charges dropped in exchange for agreeing not to come after the city for plotting to violate his rights. I also suspect that the authorities never expected charges to stick, but just wanted to get Jones out of the picture until after the 9/11 anniversary time frame.

  10. Seems law enforcement played this perfectly.

    After Jones and friend were denied a permit to burn (anything) at a particular park, officers advised they’d now be on the radar. Can’t discern if they planned to try anyway at said park, or changed mind to a public right-of-way where Jones supposedly said “I didn’t think I needed a permit here”. The law nabbed him on a number of violations, including openly wearing a ‘concealed permit’ weapon.

    Nipped. In. Bud.

  11. I agree with Bluebird. This is nothing to do with free speech: the allegations about illegal carrying of fuel and firearms stand on their own two feet.

    Jones is just a geriatric, imbecilic old fool. And frankly not worth the oxygen of publicity. That just encourages him. Ignore.

  12. I won’t be surprised if, when word gets out that these “holy” books were being carted around soaking in distilled essence of microscopic animals that existed before the world was created, mayhem results anyway.

    Steve

  13. Haven’t you people ever seen a smoker?
    Those things are all over the place. I made one out of an old propane tank and a bunch of scrap metal.
    They are all over the place on holidays, and if Terry was on the way to an FOP 9/11 BB-Q, nobody would have said a thing.
    The openly worn gun is a different thing though.
    Some places require guns to be concealed, others do not. A trained person can spot a concealed gun from across a smoky bar. Does that count?

    This is just another case of the authorities being too afraid to back up an unpopular use of the 1st amendment.

  14. It occurs that an equally valid charge to arrest him on would be ‘attempted suicide’. Of the suicide by cop variety. Only with islamic crazies instead of cops. But that would require America to admit it had a problem with islamic crazies. And yeah…

  15. Of course the guy has the legal right to free expression by burning the korans. But doing so knowing full well that certain people will go ape and cause harm to others, possibly even resulting in deaths is, in my opinion, immoral. Would we consider it ethical to provoke a mentally ill person who has sociopathic tendencies in the name of free speech?

    The law may be on Terry Jones’ side, but the exercise of it is self-indulgent and reckless, not to mention stupid and unproductive.

  16. Book burning on ideological grounds is never acceptable. Never ever. Under any circumstances.

    Hiding behind the 1st Amendment to justify biblioclasm is particularly despicable.

    If you destroy a book, you’re essentially admitting you lack the wit to refute its contents.

    If you destroy a book, that book has beaten you.

    • In reply to #28 by Katy Cordeth:

      Book burning on ideological grounds is never acceptable. Never ever. Under any circumstances.
      Hiding behind the 1st Amendment to justify biblioclasm is particularly despicable.
      If you destroy a book, you’re essentially admitting you lack the wit to refute its contents.
      If you destroy a book, that book has beaten you

      I agree. That is why when some people who comment here brag about how they deface or destroy bibles they find in hotel rooms I think they are wrong to do that. But to be clear there is a difference between saying something is wrong and saying something is criminal. Burning books because you don’t like the content of the book is always wrong but its usually not illegal in the US and I think that is something we got right.

      This case may be close enough to yelling fire in a theatre (the classic example in US law that free speech is not absolute) that Jones can be prosecuted. I don’t know and don’t care. If I were Prof. Dawkins I wouldn’t print any articles about Jones on the site, essentially for the same reasons he usually refuses to debate with creationists. Jones does this because he likes, really needs controversy to continue to get donations and sell crap to suckers. IMO we are just enabling him when we spend a lot of time analyzing what he does.

      • In reply to #29 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #28 by Katy Cordeth:

        I agree. That is why when some people who comment here brag about how they deface or destroy bibles they find in hotel rooms I think they are wrong to do that. But to be clear there is a difference between saying something is wrong and saying something is criminal. Burning books because you don’t like the content of the book is always wrong but its usually not illegal in the US and I think that is something we got right.

        The bragging about defacement of Bibles in hotel rooms puzzles me too. When I first joined this site there was a thread recounting how someone had gone into hospital and was appalled to discover one of these editions of God’s autobiography on the nightstand next to his bed. This chap was so offended he actually complained to hospital staff. I don’t like to boast about my atheist credentials or my ranking on the Dawkins Atheist Scale, but I think my indifference to books like the Bible or Qur’an and lack of a kneejerk reaction on encountering them means I’m definitely more atheist than those who are compelled to bother hardworking medical staff or commit acts of wanton vandalism.

        When I check into a hotel, I’m usually more concerned that the room has recently been serviced and the previous occupant hasn’t Genesis 38:9ed all over the sheets I’m going to be sleeping on. I don’t give a fig about the literature I’ve been provided with.

        But to be clear there is a difference between saying something is wrong and saying something is criminal. Burning books because you don’t like the content of the book is always wrong but its usually not illegal in the US…

        Actually I think in most circumstances it is illegal. Despite what many posters here think, you don’t usually have the right to burn a book just because you bought it. I’m no expert, but I think international copyright laws dictate that books remain the intellectual property of their author or the author’s estate. How that works when the author is unknown or is just, you know, God is anyone’s guess.

        …and I think that is something we got right.

        This is why I gave you the frowny face earlier on when you said:

        The US constitution guarantees free speech. Period. How lunatics may react to speech doesn’t enter into the question.

        I agree this is something the US Constitution got right; but it’s right because it’s right, not because it’s enshrined in some document. I don’t know if Saudi Arabia has a constitution of its own, but if it does and that thing says women are not allowed to drive motor vehicles or they must be accompanied at all times by a male relative, the fact it’s in the country’s constitution is irrelevant. It’s still wrong.

        • In reply to #31 by Katy Cordeth:

          Actually I think in most circumstances it is illegal. Despite what many posters here think, you don’t usually have the right to burn a book just because you bought it.

          Sorry Katy but that is just wrong. I know a bit about this because I did some work on Digital Rights Management as a consultant. Its one of the odd things about eBooks rather than paper books. With an eBook you don’t necessarily have the complete rights to do as you want with it (e.g. loan it to someone) which many people like me (when I’m not consulting for big media companies that is) think is wrong. But for a paper book absolutely, you bought it you can do what you want with it. Cut it up in pieces, use it to wipe your butt, whatever you want.

          I agree this is something the US Constitution got right; but it’s right because it’s right, not because it’s enshrined in some document.

          I agree. There is nothing sacred about the US constitution. I would be all in favor for example of rewriting or just getting rid of the right to have a gun.

          • In reply to #34 by Red Dog:

            I defer to your superior knowledge of international copyright law, CF


            Edit: CC

    • In reply to #28 by Katy Cordeth:

      Book burning on ideological grounds is never acceptable. Never ever. Under any circumstances.

      Hiding behind the 1st Amendment to justify biblioclasm is particularly despicable.

      If you destroy a book, you’re essentially admitting you lack the wit to refute its contents.

      If you destroy a book, that…

      I wouldn’t go that far. It’s not so much its ethical dubiousness as its pathetically OTT sensationalism that makes it contemptible. I think such actions require not so much an outraged response as the sort of response you’d give to a bratty kid throwing a tantrum. Such gestures should be ridiculed out of existence. They’re basically jackass stunts mixed with after school specials.

      • In reply to #30 by Zeuglodon:

        In reply to #28 by Katy Cordeth:

        Book burning on ideological grounds is never acceptable. Never ever. Under any circumstances.

        Hiding behind the 1st Amendment to justify biblioclasm is particularly despicable.

        If you destroy a book, you’re essentially admitting you lack the wit to refute its contents.

        If you destroy a book, that…

        I wouldn’t go that far. It’s not so much its ethical dubiousness as its pathetically OTT sensationalism that makes it contemptible. I think such actions require not so much an outraged response as the sort of response you’d give to a bratty kid throwing a tantrum. Such gestures should be ridiculed out of existence. They’re basically jackass stunts mixed with after school specials.

        I wasn’t talking about Pastor Jones. He’s clearly a moron, and beneath contempt. Get a new gimmick, Terry. Going from burning one copy of the Qur’an to burning 3000 of them demonstrates a lack of imagination and just goes to show what a one-trick pony you are.

        I don’t credit him with an iota of intellectual awareness. I agree with Red Dog’s assessment, although I think Terry Jones’s… actually, I think I’m going to call him Smith from now on, because the Crimson Feline is quite correct when he says wretches like this feed on the oxygen of publicity… I think Terry Smith’s motivation has more to do with being in the public spotlight than with accumulating personal wealth; although the two things are probably inextricably connected. When he first slithered into the nation’s consciousness, Smith said the only thing that would prevent him going ahead with his actions would be a personal call from President Obama. That’s conviction right there, that is.


        Edit: Canine

  17. In reply to #34 by Red Dog:

    In reply to #31 by Katy Cordeth:

    Actually I think in most circumstances it is illegal. Despite what many posters here think, you don’t usually have the right to burn a book just because you bought it.

    …But for a paper book absolutely, you bought it you can do what you want with it. Cut it up in pieces, use it to wipe your butt, whatever you want.

    I’ve had a bit of a rethink about this, prompted by memory of an earlier thread concerning Smith. It got quite heated, I seem to recall, but came to a conclusion with the posting of this bit of Wiki wisdom:

    …The preserving of the integrity of the work bars the work from alteration, distortion, mutilation. Anything else that may detract from the artist’s relationship with the work even after it leaves the artist’s possession or ownership may bring these moral rights into play. Moral rights are distinct from any economic rights tied to copyrights. Even if an artist has assigned his or her copyright rights to a work to a third party, he or she still maintains the moral rights to the work.

    • In reply to #37 by Katy Cordeth:

      But all that stuff about defamation, etc. is talking about the work as an abstract entity not about actual physical instances of the work. So, yes if I write something that makes people think that The Selfish Gene is all about Social Darwinism, e.g., taking quotes out of context or pretending that the book says something it doesn’t, Dawkins has a moral right to object and possibly even some legal remedies. But once you buy an actual physical copy of the book you can do what you like with the actual physical book, at least in US law.

      I think what this really comes down to is I’m much more of a Libertarian (although I seldom use that word to describe myself because its been so bastardized by people like Ron Paul) then you are. To me just saying something is morally wrong (which I absolutely agree everything Jones does is wrong) is not at all the same as saying it should be illegal. I want to limit the power of government and I’m as afraid (if not more so) of governments abusing their power as I am of individuals abusing their freedom. So there are a lot of laws that try to legislate morality (e.g. all drug use laws) that I think should just go away. And its why I don’t like the idea of “hate speech” laws. I’m too afraid they can turn into “speech most people don’t like” laws.

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