The September 11 Qu'ran burning at the Dove World Outreach Center places the American Civil Liberties Union in an awkward but familiar position: Its desire to protect the freedom of expression collides with the group's desire to promote religious tolerance. That's because the speech is one of religious intolerance.
ACLU South Florida spokesman Brandon Hensler says that in this case, the right to free speech is the one the organization will fight for. "You can't pick and choose who's protected by the Constitution," says Hensler.
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"People would like to see his speech shut down," says Hensler, of the church's pastor, Terry Jones. "But that would just make him a martyr."
Rather, ACLU advocates more speech. So the organization is participating in a counterprotest for that day and an interfaith forum the evening prior. Last week, the group wrote an op-ed in the Gainesville Sun to explain how it supports the speech but not the message.
And the ACLU joins with Gen. George Petreus and Angelina Jolie in cautioning the church:
"Stunts like Terry Jones is doing in Gainesville, you can't stifle that; but he has to think about the unintended consequences of his actions," says Hensler.
The most obvious consequence: that Jones and his church are doing an enormous favor to Islamic extremists who will use this episode as a recruiting tool to convince more moderate Muslims that the U.S. is out to destroy their religion.