Lindsey Graham On Koran Burning: “Freedom Of Speech Is A Great Idea But We’re In A War.”

On Face The Nation today, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham said that the reaction to the Koran burning in Florida suggests that Congress should look into limiting some forms of speech (relevant question begins at 2:10 mark):

I wish we could find a way to hold people accountable. Free speech is a great idea, but we’re in a war. During World War II, we had limits on what you could say if it would inspire the enemy. So, burning a Koran is a terrible thing but it doesn’t justify killing someone. Burning a Bible would be a terrible thing but it doesn’t justify murder. Having said that, anytime we can push back here in America against actions like this that put our troops at risk we should do it, and I look forward to working with Senators Kerry, and Reid, and others to condemn this, condemn violence all over the world based on the name  of religion. But General Petreaus understand better than anybody else in America what happens when something like this is done in our country and he was right to condemn it and I think Congress would be right to reinforce what General Petreasus said.”

Graham was responding to comments by Harry Reid earlier in the program where he said that Congress may “look into” the Koran burning:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told CBS’s Bob Schieffer on Sunday that some members of Congress were considering some kind of action in response to the Florida Quran burning that sparked a murderous riot at a United Nations complex in Afghanistan and other mayhem.

“Ten to 20 people have been killed,” Reid said on “Face the Nation,” but refused to say flat-out that the Senate would pass a resolution condemning pastor Terry Jones.

“We’ll take a look at this of course…as to whether we need hearings or not, I don’t know,” he added.

Here’s your answer Senator. No, you don’t need to hold hearings and you don’t need to be looking into ways to limit the free speech rights of American citizens because of the insane reaction of people thousands of miles away who were obviously ginned up by demagogues. War or not, Terry Jones had every right to do what he did.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Religion, US Politics, , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Tony says:

    Speaking as a Briton, I strongly feel that that USA must stick to its guns on free speech. The way you do things does far more good than harm in the big scheme of things (which is what matters) In the UK we are seeing concern growing among politicians across party lines and simmering resentment among the public at the extent to which free speech is being corralled in the name of “community relations”. This resentment is amplified when restrictions on speech are seen to be a one-way street (which is very much the case in Britain).

    Furthermore, I’m unconvinced that the Second War is an especially helpful analogy, due to the fact that it was a conflict of relatively clear time boundaries. The current conflict is incredibly open ended. Any restructuring of free speech rules in order to help with this war runs a very serious risk of becoming permanent by default.

    Basically, leave well enough alone.

  2. Tano says:

    I see no problem with the Congress officially condemning Jones’s action. I would not support taking away his liberty – that would violate his rights. But condemnation, including “official” expressions of the government’s opposition to these actions is entirely appropriate.

    Jones does not speak for this country. That may be obvious to all of us, but there is nothing at all wrong with the government making it obvious to the world.

  3. Boyd says:

    I was pursuing a thought exercise on this subject earlier today. Is it possible that driving fanatics to these insane extremes is actually a good thing, in that it drives them out into the open to the point where the sane among them begin to separate themselves from the nutjobs, ultimately marginalizing them to the point that they’re ineffective?

    Again, this is just a thought exercise, not a call for more of Jones’ own version of insanity.

  4. JKB says:

    There is a huge problem with Congress officially condemning Jone’s action. Congress is a branch of the government, even without passing a law they impact freedom of speech in doing something idiotic like that as they signal that some speech is not okay. Now if, individual members wish to state such actions are inadvisable and not helpful that is another thing.

    But this just goes to show you that this isn’t a Democrat thing or a Republican thing. This is an entrenched idiot thing. These people who’ve been in DC for so long have not love of the Constitution, no love of liberty and by their beliefs, no love of America as the Great Experiment in rule by the People. Graham needs a Tea Party challenge for being an idiot.

    Condemn Terry Jone’s action using the bully pulpit of his office but once he had the thought, there ought to be a law, he revealed himself to be idiotic and an enemy of what America stands for. (stood for)

    What we ought to do is pull everyone without a machine gun out of the country, then barrage these animals with burning Korans and cartoons of Mohammed till they kill each other off.

  5. TG Chicago says:

    @Boyd: the families of the murdered UN workers might suggest that it was not such a good thing.

  6. MAB says:

    This is not about FREEDOM OF SPEECH… it is all about laws on the books that were broken with the burning of the Quran.

    Reckless Endangerment Law & Legal Definition

    Reckless endangerment is a crime consisting of acts that create a substantial risk of serious physical injury to another person. The accused person isn’t required to intend the resulting or potential harm, but must have acted in a way that showed a disregard for the foreseeable consequences of the actions. The charge may occur in various contexts, such as, among others, domestic cases, car accidents, construction site accidents, testing sites, domestic/child abuse situations, and hospital abuse. State laws and penalties vary, so local laws should be consulted.

    Reckless Knowledge Law & Legal Definition

    Reckless knowledge means the knowledge of a risk in performing an action as a result of the existence of a prohibited circumstance. In order to constitute a reckless knowledge, the act must have been performed regardless of the risk. With respect to reckless knowledge, the presumption is that when the accused failed to stop the given behavior, s/he took the risk of causing the given loss or damage.

    Conduct in Reckless Disregard Law & Legal Definition

    Reckless disregard refers to a harmful act done intentionally or failure to do an act when the actor believes or has reason to believe that his/her conduct would lead a reasonable person to realize an unreasonable risk of harm to others and involves a good probability that substantial harm will result due to such conduct.

  7. Tano says:

    tas they signal that some speech is not okay. “

    Jones’s speech is not ok. Its not illegal, but it is not ok at all.

    “What we ought to …barrage these animals with burning Korans”

    I greatly appreciate your willingness to reveal your own idiocy, and save the rest of us the trouble of bothering any further with your “arguments”.

  8. PD Shaw says:

    Tano, how much more attention do you want to give Jones? By my calculations his fifteen minutes are over, but you want to give him a second act? Do you think it would discourage other attention seekers? I think the opposite.

  9. mattt says:

    To clarify my comments from yesterday on Jones and the Koran burning……I do feel he bears some moral responsibility for the recent violence in Afghanistan, and deserves a heaping serving of scorn before we resolve to ignore his future antics. I’m curious how a civil suit be victims of the violence would proceed. But I did not mean to imply criminal responsibility, or to call for legal measures to restrict the rights of Jones or like-minded morons.

  10. Tano says:

    I understand your concern, and I sure wish that Jones would be ignored by everyone. But he is not being ignored, and his actions have clearly gotten enough attention around the world such that the crazies in Afghanistan know all about them.

    Its a tough judgment you have to make – if the government officially ignores Jones does that calm things down, or is it too late for that, with silence being easily spun by our enemies as implicit support?

    I sense that things have gone too far to wish them off the stage. My judgment is that the time is ripe for our government to make it clear that Jones does not speak for anyone but himself.

  11. consisting of acts that create a substantial risk of serious physical injury to another person

    Jones acts aren’t creating the substantial risk of serious physical injury; the actions of other people in response is. You’re basically arguing that we should be ban any activity as long as there’s some nuts somewhere willing to get violent over it.

    By this argument, we should ban abortion clinics because they’re recklessly endangering people when anti-abortion terrorists respond by shooting or bombing them.

  12. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    What a pathetic excuse for a senator!!!

    Free speech is a great idea, but we’re in a war.

    Yes Senator, and past wars were fought to protect that freedom. What the hell is this “…but…” when it comes to Muslims?

    Burning a Bible would be a terrible thing but it doesn’t justify murder.

    I am not aware of anyone being murdered for burning a Bible. This moral equivalency crap shows to what lengths some politicians will go to appease our enemy in a time of war.

    …anytime we can push back here in America against actions like this that put our troops at risk we should do it…

    Aren’t troops put at risk by the very definition of their function? Hell, they even get killed during training!

    …I look forward to working with Senators Kerry, and Reid, and others to condemn this…

    In other words, I don’t have the guts to stand up for our freedoms so I will chicken out by supporting working with anti-war leftist liberal weenies.

    I repeat, what a pathetic excuse for a senator.

  13. William Teach says:

    MAB, that law you cited doesn’t override the 1st Amendment.

    However, I have a feeling this will be all moot, because the disciples of the Religion of Peace may not allow Jones to breathe much longer. Hope Terry has good body guards

  14. Boyd says:

    @TG Chicago: No dispute that the murders are heinous, but I really think that’s covered under the “we’re not going to avoid certain behavior because they’re a bunch of murderous bastards” principle. And I’d think that any Westerner living in areas where this could happen has to be aware of the risks of living near these barbarous scum.

    Anyway, the word is out: living with these bastards can get you killed, so avoid it if you enjoy breathing. So then we’re down to just the blood-thirsty fanatics and their enablers. Who are they going to kill when we’re not around to serve as targets?

  15. silverfiddle says:

    “I wish we could find a way to hold people accountable. Free speech is a great idea, but we’re in a war.”

    Words that have launched a thousand totalitarian dictatorships.

    Can Graham really be so stupid as to allow murderous religious nutballs to have a veto on an American’s free speech rights?

    I’ve defended him in the past, but no more. Graham has got to go.

  16. greyguitarist says:

    What Rev. Jones did was wrong, but it was within the realm of Freedom of Speech. I have retired from the military and am very conservative, and detest the desecration of the Flag of the United Stattes of America, however as part of Freedom of Speech, it is allowed. My Brothers in Arms gave their lives to help guarantee these freedoms. We tolerate Pornography in this Nation under the guise of “Freedom of Speech” But now, because someone burns a Koran or someone else wants to make a Cartoon of Mohammed, Politicians want to limit our First Amendment Rights? What is wrong with that picture. The concept of “Freedom of Speech” can be summed up by this “I disagree and detest the things you say, but will die for your right to say them.”

    We have often self limited freedom of speech in attempts at being “politically correct” We can’t say a prayer in School, but Pornography and Profanity are widely accepted? Now because someone has burned a Koran (as insensitive as that act may be,) Congress wants to take an action against an individual who has exercised his right to symbollically express an opinion by burning a Koran?

    As i stated above, Rev Jones action was insensitive and cruel but how can you prohibit that when other “Nut Case” Fundamentalist Ministers are allowed to picket Funderals of Servicement because they want to make a statement regarding “Homosexuality and the Military?” If anything I find those “protests” abhorrent. I consider Funerals to be a very personal and private thing and to allow nutcases to picket the funderals of our fallen soldiers is wrong, but it has been allowed.

    Is there a double standard because Congress is afraid of some radical Muslim fundamentalists? They and the Supreme Court will allow the desecration of funerals of fallen soldiers but condemn the burning of a book because it offends someone?

  17. Hey Norm says:

    These so-called republicans are all for the constitution until they disagree with it. They are pathetic. There is no other word. Wel… There probably is.

  18. 1 says:

    First you cant burn the koran, then you cant criticize the koran…then, you cant disagree with the koran, then, you must obey.

    the koran says jews are apes and pigs, and that muslims must kill christians wherever they find them. a muslim by definition believes every word of the koran is the undisputable word of god. any questions?

    it seems like muslims dont tolerate non-muslims very well – there is not a lot of non-muslim land between morocco and pakistan, except israel, but that just proves my point.

    i know there are some moderate muslims, but there were some moderate non-violent nazis also, and they didnt stop hitler, they were part of the same machinery and at best they stood on the sidelines. (sound familiar?)

    obama forgot to say that an insult does not give them the right to kill. Unless we adopt the koran, it doesnt under our law, does it? or are we trading freedom of speech for thou shalt not insult the koran under fear of killing?

    “those who trade a little freedom for a little security shall have neither.” benjamin franklin

  19. G.A.Phillips says:

    Allah is greater……Allah is greater……..

    Allah sucks!

  20. epistorese says:

    Remember folks, Linsday Graham is a Senator; threrefore, he is also a weather vane. His opinion is whatever the particular audience that is listening to him wants it to be at the moment he is speaking. His words have no meaning. His speaking has no content. It is all just hot air, smoke, and mirrors.

  21. TG Chicago says:

    @Boyd: I hope I’m misunderstanding you. It sounds an awful lot like you’re saying that all Afghans are “blood-thirsty fanatics and their enablers”. If I misunderstood, then can you explain what you meant?

  22. Boyd says:

    I’m sorry for not making this clear, TG. My point is that there are two groups here: the blood-thirsty fanatics, and their enablers (who are enablers because they just let these atrocities happen). My speculation is that the enablers (who personally oppose these despicable acts), after being exposed to more and more of this type of behavior, would eventually act to reject it.

    Again, I’m not advocating any action or articulating “Boyd’s grand plan” or anything of that nature, and I also recognize that I’m purposely ignoring a lot of factors just to examine this particular idea in a vacuum. That’s the advantage of a mental exercise or a thought experiment. If I were to try and expand this to the point where it would actually be useful (I’m not), then after reaching a conclusion I could factor in more considerations and see where they lead.

    But I’m not trying to do any of that beyond the question I raised. I’m just “thinking out loud” about a single facet of the situation.

  23. daveinboca says:

    Tony the concerned Brit is right on target. Graham is a girly-man RINO and will he and used-condom Kerry be on the”committee” which “investigates” this admittedly one-off outrage? Will this hairpiece-specimen of cowardice and duplicity wear ALL THREE of his ill-gotten Purple Hearts which diminish the value of the medal for the millions of brave men who got it for actually being WOUNDED? Graham should join Kerry and bleating “the-war-is-lost!” traitor Reid in the back of the Senate to wear dunce hats for the rest of their terms there. Reid gives the Mormon Faith a bad name—the guy is a byword for imbecility. Graham should unmann himself unless it’s already been done by real men to keep this sissy’s mouth shut!

  24. Jay Tea says:

    Interesting, Doug. Graham has no real position of authority in the Senate, and he gets top billing. On the other hand, the Senate Majority Leader said much the same thing, and he’s relegated to “also-ran” credit.

    Interesting priorities…


  25. Tano says:

    go crawl back in your hole and work out your sexual issues in private please. No one is interested in your impotent rants…

  26. Joe says:

    Instead of curtailing speech and condeming Terry Jones, why don’t they figure out a wy to win the war. Also it would seem to me that Terry Jones is protected from a Congressional Resolution conmdeming his act.

  27. Hey Norm says:

    Your understanding of what the Koran says is childish at best.

  28. Jay Tea says:

    Joe, interesting question. The Constitution specifically bans Bills of Attainder, but this would be a non-binding resolution, not an actual law with actual consequences. I can see it being argued both ways.

    I’d lean against it being legal, but with no great confidence.

    Quite an interesting question.


  29. Mathilda says:

    I assume Mr Jones owned the book he burned ; therefore no crime was comitted.

    The ‘be careful what you say’ only applies to non-Muslims. The UK variant are heinously derogatory about other religions, they burn memorial poppies (we find this a real insult). They also burn the American flag with monotonous regularity.

    Essentially allowing their behaviour to control our behaviour violates all kinds of free speech issues. Exactly what will we be allowed to say by them?

    I say we should all buy a copy and publicly burn it, and carefully film which of our Muslim residents go on the rampage so we know who to deport.

  30. Jay Tea says:

    Boyd, I hope you see this, because I just stole your thought experiment and ran with it. Thanks SO much.


  31. George Kirkman says:

    “During World War II, we had limits on what you could say if it would inspire the enemy.”

    That is quite a stretch on Sen Graham part. Did we ban burning Mein Kampf during WW II?

  32. George Kirkman says:

    “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told CBS’s Bob Schieffer on Sunday that some members of Congress were considering some kind of action in response to the Florida Quran burning that sparked a murderous riot at a United Nations complex in Afghanistan and other mayhem.”

    Good! I hope they come down hard on Rev Jones. I want our Senators go on record as to who supports the US Constitution and free speech and who supports Sharia law and the suppression of civil rights.