In my callow youth yelling fire in a theater universally denoted the limits of the First Amendment. Watching other lines of our First Right waver was the evening news of my Baby Boomer life. But I never heard tell of that original principle being abandoned.
But this past media week makes me think such limits have been lifted. So when did it become legal to incite violence? Before or after 9/11? It wasn't that way when I was coming along. Back then you could arrest non-violent protesters for inciting violence. Now it seems more illegal to conspire to commit treason than incite violence. How did that happen?
Another thing I don't get, what does it mean to burn someone's religious book? Is it like burning a flag? Which, by the way, is really confusing in America where burning the flag is both the correct and incorrect way to get rid of one. So that means, in America, with flags, it’s the intent that determines the criminality – or not – of the act. So maybe with flags it's sort of like conspiring. It's the part in your mind that is illegal.
The "will-I-won't-I" Quran burning is more like inciting than conspiring, the proverbial lighting of the match. Is holy-book-burning then an extravagant spit in the face? Could we counter it with a bigger spit? Facing off with a couple dozen Gideon's?
No. It could only work if the Bible burning were an offering of some sort, to peace I suppose. Burning with sneers on our faces is merely a tit for tat, or spit for spat as the case may be. And that is so obviously the problem, not the solution.
I don't propose burning Bibles as an anti-Christian gesture, more an attempt to balance the fallout. I've no disrespect for the Bible, a great book, it guided my upbringing and life values, however poor my adherence. Indeed, it is perhaps shoddy understanding that leads me to think that using the Good Book in any way to defuse hatred would be considered Good Works.
I specifically chose the Gideon’s Bibles because they seem the most nondescript. I don’t propose to offer the small white Bible my mother carried at her wedding and I carried to a smattering of Protestant Sunday schools throughout my childhood. No one suggests you give up something personal when dealing in symbolism.
Maybe that's why symbolism never works well for me at a burning -- be it a flag or an effigy or a book or a whole city -- I have a hard time grasping the philosophical from video of hotly led and undisciplined hooligans with no stake in their wake.
It always seems to me, sitting at a slight remove from my television, we have the stake in this wake, we theater-goers who had planned, at the end of the show, to make dinner and get on with it. We hadn't planned to bump up against a band of hooligans playing irresponsibly in the public streets attempting to set-off the Apocalypse.
So here I am, at my great remove, slack-jawed with wonder. If regulatory stop work orders halt bulldozers, court orders protect threatened individuals, how can there be no Homeland Security measure to protect America from a band of hooligans screaming fire in a crowded theater?
For that matter, when will the public health laws kick in? I thought in America we provided protective confinement for people in imminent danger of harming themselves and others.