Rights are Protected

Houston Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee is the latest in a growing list of U.S. leaders to denounce a Florida pastor for inciting violence after burning a Quran. But one law professor says the cleric’s actions are protected. Pat Hernandez has more.

When the Reverend Terry Jones and members of his Florida congregation burned a copy of the Quran last month, it resulted in violent protests at the United Nations in Afghanistan and to the deaths of dozens of people, including U.N. workers.

At a press conference to denounce the burning of the religious text of Islam, Houston Democratic Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee says she understands that most would do whatever is necessary to protect the Constitution and the
First Amendment.

“But I will say, that we have a responsibility to stand against violence on both sides of the ocean. The violence of burning of Quran, a religious and sacred document, and to call upon Muslims of good will to denounce the violence that has occurred.”

Houston Democratic Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee speaking
From left to right: New Jersey Democratic Representative Donald Payne with Houston Democratic Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee And Dr. Aziz Siddiqi, president of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston, Issa Galloway of Interfaith Ministries, and the Reverend Elmo Johnson.

She was joined by New Jersey Democratic representative Donald Payne, who is a ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee.

“As our Congresswoman said and as she is renowned as an outstanding attorney, that you cannot yell ‘FIRE’ in a theater. That’s exactly what happened here with Reverend Jones. I don’t know what his goals are, because his actions are creating death and destruction.”

Members of the local clergy were also on hand, including Dr. Aziz Siddiqi, president of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston. He said violence that followed the burning is wrong.

“We will not tolerate this kind of behavior, and I’m quoting directly from Quran. If you kill one innocent person, as if you kill entire humanity.”

Congresswoman Jackson Lee says she’s written letters to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, to assess the actions of the Rev. Jones and to determine whether he is a threat to national security.

“I will be fierce enough to say that there should not be one voice in defense of Reverend Jones, and I would also be respectful of my colleagues to say to you, that I feel confident that this will be a bipartisan effort.”

Professor Jeff Addicott is the director of the center for terrorism law at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. He says whether you agree with what Jones did or not, his actions are protected by the First Amendment.

“I don’t agree with it, but the fact that he did it is not a criminal offense — unless he violated some code about creating a fire hazard or some sort. But no, he has every right to do what he did. We’re seeing people, in my opinion, that are clearly letting their emotions get away with them and overreacting. I think the best to do is probably ignore him and he will go away.”

The Gainesville cleric allowed the burning of the Quran following a mock trial that found the book guilty of crimes against humanity. The FBI says Hezbollah has a 2-million dollar bounty on his head.