England Continues Crackdown on Anti-Religious Speech: Former British Soldier Sentenced To Jail For Burning Koran

A former soldier in England has been sentenced to 70 days in prison for burning a copy of the Koran (Qu’ran) in public. While a detestable act, the prosecution of individuals for the exercise of free speech is equally detestable and part of a growing trend of such prosecutions in the West under blasphemy or hate crime laws.

England has been a leader in the crackdown on free speech — arresting and prosecuting people for speaking out against particular religious or other groups (here and here and here and here).

Notably, Ryan could have been charged with simply stealing the Koran and burning an object without a permit. Yet, prosecutors went as well for a charge of “religiously aggravated harassment” against the 32-year-old former soldier. He burning the book after he was outraged by the scene of a Muslim burning a poppy on Remembrance Day.

District Judge Gerald Chalk called it a case of “theatrical bigotry”. On that I would agree. However, I would not call burning a religious book a crime.

Ryan was still clearly upset about what he viewed as a double standard when he was sentenced, shouting “What about my country? What about burning poppies?”

Source: BBC

Jonathan Turley

19 thoughts on “England Continues Crackdown on Anti-Religious Speech: Former British Soldier Sentenced To Jail For Burning Koran”

  1. What Andy wrote a while back is very true.

    The poppy burning would certainly have provided a violent reaction from me had I been there.

    I live in a town with a large muslim (Pakistani) population and can tell you that they are the biggest pack of racist bigots of the lot. To be fair, there are exceptions, but these those folk are usually too busy working hard to be encountered on the street.

    Many of us are at a loss as to why the authorities seem to bend over backwards to accomodate their demands.

  2. After reading the Professor’s post, I was ready to defend the British based on the fact that the man stole the Koran — stealing a particular person’s holy book and burning it would indeed constitute religiously aggravated harassment. However, he stole the book from a library, so my theory is bunk. Fie on you, Great Britain! Fie!

  3. Pete,
    I deny having any knowledge of the matter of which you speak.

    As far as I know, none of the student papers at any of the universities I attended were used in that manner. However, they all needed to be at times.

  4. os

    had an aunt and uncle that had one of those little buildings out back. scary place for an 8y/o at night.

    i understand certain sections of the catalog were popular before hugh hefner published his magazine

  5. Pete, when I was a kid back in the 1930s and 1940s, we had a different use for the Sears catalog. Came in useful as a needed “accessory” for our two-holer in the back yard.

  6. I may largely agree with Prof. Turley that this particular prosecution was a bad idea. (Prosecuting this pathetic jerk for those more conventional crimes would have gone a long way towards dealing with the political aspects of the situation.) But where should the line be drawn? We know that when we get to someone standing on a stage in front of a crowd, waving a sword or gun and screaming “Let’s go kill a bunch of (insert name of religious group here)s!!!” that such speech is not protected, and should be prosecuted.

    Somewhere in between is the line – but where? When someone in power asks, “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” it could be taken as an instruction to do violence.. Does that cross the line into being not worth of protection? When a religious leader says, “Members of that other faith are actually servants of the evil entity as part of our eternal struggle!” then a member of the group attacks those people, does that not cross the line into no longer protected speech?

  7. rafflaw,

    There is a religion that does in fact worship poppies….its called the cartel….No, no….today its the cartels’ and people still idolizing Greek Mythology….You see the Greeks worshiped the Poppy long before the Afghans….

    In Greek mythology, Demeter who is the goddess of the harvest, who presided over grains, the fertility of the earth, and the seasons.

    Demeter’s emblem is the poppy, a bright red flower that grows among the barley.

    For the Greeks Demeter was still a poppy goddess Bearing sheaves and poppies in both hands. — Idyll vii.157

  8. “he was outraged by the scene of a Muslim burning a poppy on Remembrance Day.”

    I trust everyone realizes that the memory of WWI in the UK and Commonwealth countries approaches the religious in terms of emotion. The poppy burners are fortunate that they did not face a violent reaction.

  9. “religiously aggravated harassment” against the 32-year-old former soldier. He burning the book after he was outraged by the scene of a Muslim burning a poppy on Remembrance Day.
    “What about my country? What about burning poppies?”

    Well, in the ongoing conflation of religion and the state…why are we surprised?

    but I agree…it was an act of free speech…not a very bright one, one that may stoke the fires of aggression….just as burning poppies is a symbolic spit in the eye…reminds me of the flag burning protests here…except that we were saying something entirely different….

  10. Bad result and bad law. This type of activity should be protected under law. It is a slippery slope. I guess if there was a religion in England that worshiped poppies, this guy would have been ok!?

  11. Perhaps what is “wrong with me” is of my being able to think with socially intolerable clarity?

    As I am able to write of what I have come to understand:

    Speech is a noun, the name of the process of speaking, and speaking is accomplished the the body organs of speaking, which necessarily, to me, includes effectively using the vocal tract.

    Some people do not develop the ability to speak, perhaps because the nervous system pathways needed for speech did not develop such as to allow speaking. Some autistic people and/or some people with autism use facilitated communication because they are physically (neurologically) incapable of speaking.

    I have been with people who communicate using facilitated communication; to me, facilitated communication is a form of writing, not speaking, even though a facilitator may speak the words the non-speaking person writes by presssing on or pinting to various printed characters on what I here name the “communication facilitation board.”

    There is communication which uses words (speech or writing/printing) and there is communication which does not use words (in general form “acting out” which, to me, is neither spoken nor written/printed).

    To me, facilitated communication is of writing/printing and not of speaking.

    There appears to me to be constitutional provision for both freedom of speech and freedom of the press, so facilitated communication is protected by freedom of the press and not by freedom of speech. Either way, however, communication using only words appears to me to be at least partially constitutionally protected.

    Not so, as best I have yet learned, is there comparable constitutional protection of (or for) violent destructiveness.

    Using one’s voice (vocal tract and sound waves) to share words is, to me, a core aspect of free speech. Sharing words without using ones voice, by writing or printing them, is to me, a core aspect of freedom of the press.

    Violent, destructive acting-out is neither of freedom of speech (because it is not talking, using words) nor of freedom of the press (because it is not of writing or printing words).

    Nowhere do I find unambiguous protection by law of violent destruction, since violent destruction is never limited to words, whether spoken, written, or printed.

    Therefore, to me, burning books, like burning people, is never protected by freedom of speech or freedom of the press.

    Speech, when spoken is merely air vibration. The press (whether hand written, or produced by a fancy printing press) is mere markings on something (often paper?).

    Except in the land of the insane, how is physically violent destruction truthfully deemed the mere talking of words (air vibrations which are in themselves not violently destructive) or deemed the mere writing/printing of words (markings on paper or whatever else may be similarly marked which are not violently destructive — violent destruction includes, for me, the defacing of a work of art)?

    Once not-speech is defined as speech and not-writing/printing is defined as writing/printing, have we gone well below the bottom of that mythic rabbit hole, into a world which, except as a violent nonsense fantasy, never actually exists?

    Children are not for burning.

    What is the fullest possible meaning of “children”?

    Is the writing of an author or the painting of a visual artist not of the total “progeny” of the writer’s or artist’s life?

    Mere marks on paper, whether words or visual art, are not, in and of themselves alone, violent, though they may non-violently portray and/or convey extreme violence.

    Dishonestly re-naming destructive violence “speech” makes destructive violence neither less violent nor less destructive.

  12. England has been a leader in the crackdown on free speech — arresting and prosecuting people for speaking out against particular religious or other groups …..

    Been going on for years here as I am led to believe….but then again..I wasn’t there…so I can only read what was written…

    I am all for burning any damn book you want…so long as its yours…and the governments not burning yours….that bring up an era from not so long ago….

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