Lindsey Graham Doubles Down On His Disdain For The First Amendment

Senator Lindsey Graham spoke to National Review’s Robert Costa today about the questions that have been raised about his comments yesterday about the burning of the Koran by Florida “Pastor” Terry Jones:

NRO: Some of my National Review colleagues are being pretty rough on you today. What is your response to some of the outrage on the right about your comments regarding free speech?

GRAHAM: General Petraeus sent a statement out to all news organizations yesterday, urging our government to ban Koran burning. Free speech probably allows that, but I don’t like that. I don’t like burning the flag under the idea of free speech. That bothers me; I have been one of the chief sponsors of legislation against burning the flag. I don’t like the idea that these people picket funerals of slain servicemen. If I had my way, that wouldn’t be free speech. So there are a lot of things under the guise of free speech that I think are harmful and hateful.

When General Petraeus wants us to say something because our troops are at risk, I’m glad to help. I don’t believe that killing someone is an appropriate reaction to burning the Koran, the Bible, or anything else, like I said Sunday; but those who believe that free speech allows you to burn the flag, I disagree. Those who want free speech to allow you to go to a funeral and picket a family, and giving more misery to their lives than they have already suffered, I disagree. And if I could do something about behavior that puts our troops at risk, I would. But in this case, you probably can’t. It’s not about the Koran; it’s about putting our troops at risk. And I think all of us owe the troops the support we’re capable of giving.

First of all, Graham is wrong; Petraeus did not say that Koran burning should be outlawed. Indeed, it would be inappropriate for a serving military officer to make any such statement like that. What he did say is that he condemned the act and that it puts our troops at risk:

KABUL—The Quran burning by a Florida church, which sparked three days of deadly rioting in Afghanistan, poses new dangers for the U.S.-led war effort against the Taliban, coalition commander U.S. Gen. David Petraeus warned in an interview.

Gen. Petraeus, who commands some 150,000 U.S. and allied troops here, spoke after Afghan rioters angered by reports of the sacrilege sacked the United Nations compound in the city of Mazar-e-Sharif, killing seven foreigners, and went on a lethal rampage in the southern city of Kandahar, waving Taliban flags.

The deadly rioting, which the Taliban say erupted spontaneously, has shocked the international community and highlighted the vulnerability of the embattled Afghan government. Urban mob violence against Western targets adds a disturbing new threat in a country that is fighting a mostly rural insurgency, and where foreign and local security forces are ill-prepared for riot control.

“Every security force leader’s worst nightmare is being confronted by essentially a mob, if you will, especially one that can be influenced by individuals that want to incite violence, who want to try to hijack passions, in this case, perhaps understandable passions,” Gen. Petraeus said in the Sunday interview. “Obviously it’s an additional serious security challenge in a country that faces considerable security challenges.”


“This was a surprise,” Gen. Petraeus said. The Quran burning in Florida, he added, was “hateful, extremely disrespectful and enormously intolerant.”

And just so there’s no doubt that Petraeus now faces a problem:

“We cannot see the difference between that man in Florida and the American soldiers here,” said Karimullah, a 25-year-old religious student who, like many Afghans, goes by one name and took part in Sunday’s Kandahar protests. “They are killing our people here while in the U.S. they burn the Holy Quran. America just wants to humiliate the Muslim world.”

Graham, meanwhile, goes on to say that he doesn’t support legal sanctions for Koran burning and similar acts, but that he believes there should be “push back”:

Push back. Let the world know that we don’t condone this, that this is not America. Let people see that this is not who the American people are. To be a Christian, you don’t have to prove you’re a Christian by burning the Koran. We are nation where we tolerate religious differences and that’s what makes us great. We want to push the Muslim world to tolerate Christianity better. It’s pretty hard for us to stand up for freedom of religion in Islamic counties when you can’t stand up for it here

However, Graham goes on to compare Koran burning to flag burning and protesting at soldier’s funerals, neither of which he thinks deserve Constitutional  protection despite the fact that the Supreme Court has said quite the opposite. So, his insistence that he doesn’t want to use the law to ban activity like this doesn’t ring true to me at all. Once again, Senator Graham, there is no such thing as a right not to be offended and that goes for people who don’t like flag burning, funeral protests, or burning religious books. It’s a shame you can’t recognize that.


FILED UNDER: Congress, Law and the Courts, 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. PD Shaw says:

    Unfortunately, OTB and other groups and citizens have not been sufficiently supportive of our endeavors in Afghanistan and public support is vital to the success of that mission. Therefore, General Petraeus sent a statement out to all news organizations yesterday, urging our government to ban unfair criticism of the effort. I don’t like it, but the First Amendment probably allows that. After all, what value is unfair criticism? It would be like unfairly shouting fire in a crowded theatre.

  2. Herb says:

    So the article says: “Graham, meanwhile, goes on to say that he doesn’t support legal sanctions for Koran burning and similar acts,” and even mentions that Graham prefers a (clearly verbal) “push back,” or in other words, more free speech.

    And yet the headline says “Graham doubles down on his disdain for the 1st Amendment.”

    Real slippery…..

  3. APL says:

    If you look at this from a literal standpoint, burning
    a flag, or a book, is not speech. It is an action. Granted
    a book has words in it, but the action of burning it
    is not speech. Burning a book may denote an
    emotional feeling, but unless one speaks about
    that emotion, it is not speech. Bearing a sign
    may denote speech if it has words on it.
    I don’t think the Constitution says anything
    about actions that don’t do harm to another.
    I know the Supreme Court has ruled that
    flag burning is a form of free speech, but I don’t
    buy it.

    Note: I really don’t believe it is very Christian
    to trash another persons beliefs. And the Pastor
    who committed this act is not a Christian!

  4. James Cain says:

    Free speech has cost ,it’s much more expensive to censor speech,muslims are trying in the U.N. @ this very moment to “criminalize” any negative (judged by them) expressions of islam,muslims killed (murdered)18,000 muslims in 2010(blowing up each others mosques& korans) and letting these pathetic examples of human(actions) beings ,coerce the rest of us by fear to give up free speech is disgraceful! Evil peoples succeed when Good men keep quiet(muzzeled) The “fact”that these murderers come apart @ an insult,& justify thier behavior proves that like Nazi’s they must be stopped! It is MUSLIMS that are WRONG!And must be controlled. “No kingdom divided will stand” America needs to decide,are we going to coward or engage?Democracy & sharia law can not reign together in power no more than oil & water,choice must be made either /or,they UNDERSTAND THAT FACT & are willing to kill us,we must come to terms there is NO other option!

  5. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    Free speech probably allows that, but I don’t like that.

    And that is precisely why we have the First Amendment to the Constitution, to keep gut-less old farts like this from imposing their personal likes on the rest of us. Indeed, Graham seems to forget that he took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution, including all its amendments.

    It’s time this jackass is put out to pasture.

  6. epistorese says:

    Again, I think you are taking Graham too seriously. He is a politician. He preaches to his choir–The National Review Online, in this case. It’s all blather targeted to resonating with the biases of the people he expects to vote for him in the next election. Content? I really don’t think so. I’ve been listening to him on Sunday news shows for about 8 years now. As the bard said, it is all “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

    That said, I also agree that his fifteen minutes are up now and he should go back to chasing ambulances, or whatever he did before he started his unreal life in politics.

  7. Kylopod says:

    >I don’t think the Constitution says anything about actions that don’t do harm to another. I know the Supreme Court has ruled that flag burning is a form of free speech, but I don’t buy it.

    I should note that Texas v. Johnson wasn’t the first case in which the Court classified a symbolic act as a form of speech. In Stromberg v. California (1931), the Court ruled against banning red flags (in support of Communism), and in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969), the Court protected the right of students to wear black armbands in opposition to the Vietnam War.

    The Stromberg case used not just the First Amendment, but also the Fourteenth, to derive the concept of symbolic speech. You may disagree with the flag-burning decision, but it has precedent, and even the two dissenting opinions (by William Rehnquist and John Paul Stevens) didn’t question that precedent.

  8. Anon says:

    The National Review are NOT Graham’s choir, via Mark Steyn, they are the ones who ridiculed the moron. Here’s Steyn:

    “I agree with the Instaprof: Lindsey Graham is unfit for office. The good news is there’s no need for the excitable lads of Mazar e-Sharif to chop his head off because he’s already walking around with nothing up there. . . . Claire Berlinski has it right: The real ‘racists’ here are not this no-name pastor and his minimal flock but Reid, Graham, and the Times — for they assume that a significant proportion of Muslims are not responsible human beings but animals no more capable of rational behavior than the tiger who mauled Siegfried’s Roy. If that is true, certain consequences follow therefrom. The abandonment of the First Amendment is not one of them.”

    And they are right, this jackass has no business holding office.

  9. Southern Hoosier says:

    I think I will go out this weekend and buy me another Koran. I am going to rip out some pages, burn the edges and mail them the Sen Graham.