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Has the First Amendment Become a "National Security Threat"?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

"This is a recruitment bonanza for al-Qaeda...”

That’s how President Barack Obama, in a national television interview on September 9, described the plans of an American Pastor to hold a September 11th “Koran burning” event at his church in Florida.

Prior to the President’s TV interview, the Pastor had already been chastised by some of the highest-ranking officials in the Obama Administration. Attorney General Eric Holder had described the Pastor and his plans as “idiotic,” while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had stated that it was all “disgraceful.”

Yet President Obama apparently believed it was necessary to speak about this himself, and try to stop the Koran burning festivities.

If the disgraceful and idiotic private citizen were to carry out his intended disgraceful and idiotic plans, then “you could have serious violence in places like Pakistan or Afghanistan” the President stated. “This could increase the recruitment of individuals who would be willing to blow themselves up in American cities or European cities," Obama explained, adding that "If he's listening, I hope he understands that what he's proposing to do is completely contrary to our values as Americans. That this country has been built on the notion of freedom and religious tolerance..."

These are strong words from the sitting U.S. President, aimed at one, private citizen. And the fact that the stated intentions of one private citizen would draw criticism from the President and his Administration – and would touch-off death threats on American lives– is seriously troublesome on multiple levels.

First, let’s accurately assess what has been at the epicenter of this controversy in the first place. At the time of this writing (I’m composing these words on the afternoon of Friday September 10), it is unclear whether the Florida Pastor will stage a Koran Burning event on September 11th, or not. This is to say that the Pastor has only stated his intentions, and we don’t know if he will ever carry them out.

Describe the Pastor and his plans in whatever derogatory and demeaning terms you wish. Stupid. Inflammatory. Insensitive. Intolerant. Misguided. Ill-advised. My observation is that the man seems quite inarticulate, and a bit “nutty,” and I wish the Obama Administration and the worldwide media industry had not drawn so much attention to him (notice that I am not stating the man’s name – it makes no sense for me to give this character more attention).

Yet this nutty guy is merely speaking his mind – and in America, we regard this as constitutionally protected “free speech.” For much of our nation’s history, Americans have possessed an attitude that says “I may disagree with what you say, but I’ll fight to the death for your right to say it..”

But we now seem to have turned a corner on this type of freedom. In this instance, some of the most powerful people in our government determined that if this one private citizen were to exercise his legal right to burn copies of a particular book, such an excursion in human liberty would threaten the security of Americans both domestically, and abroad – and thus, this one private citizen should not exercise his legal rights.

A President who was more appreciative of the uniqueness of American liberty, might have taken the opportunity to explain that American freedom is a good thing, and that freedom itself is not a problem. Yet when one lacks the discernment as to how to wisely exercise their freedoms, therein lies a problem. That could have been a true moment of presidential leadership - a “teachable moment” if you will – but that is not how President Obama and his Administration has responded to the rhetoric of our nutty fellow American.

Second, the fact that mere rhetoric can incite “death to America” demonstrations in Afghanistan and can rise to the level of a national security threat says something about the predominant Muslim culture, and President Obama’s assessment of that culture.

In June of 2009, our President delivered a now-famous speech at Cairo University, wherein he stated “I've come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect, and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles — principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings…”

Those were beautiful words, words that were perhaps meant to inspire. Yet polling conducted by the Brookings Institute two months ago shows that President Obama faces a near 65% disapproval rate in the Middle East, and the Muslim world remains as hostile as ever towards the West.

If indeed Americans and Muslims shared the “common principles” of “tolerance and dignity of all human beings” as President Obama has stated, then American lives would not be endangered because of the words of one man in Florida.

Rather than honestly acknowledging the serious problems of Muslim culture, the Obama Administration has instead chosen to define American freedom as a problem.

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