Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A book in the loo is worth four in the pen

What would you say if you knew there was a country where a student could be sentenced to as much as four years in prison for making a political statement by dropping a Qur'an into the toilet? What would you say if the law was used to protect only the Qur'an, and books and artifacts from other religions, viewed as holy, were forbidden to be displayed or acknowledged in public places?

It couldn’t happen here in America, could it?

No, this Land of the Free would never allow anybody to suppress freedom of religious expression. We pride ourselves on our freedom. We’ve had that freedom from the get-go. It’s right there in the Constitution of the United States of America.

Except, it is the United States in which a student has already spent time in jail for tossing a Qur'an into the john. And he wasn’t held on any piddly little destruction of property charge, either. Stanislav Shmulevich is charged under felony hate crimes legislation.

Shmulevich threatened nobody. He didn’t prop a flaming cross in the front yard of some poor family in rural Mississippi. He didn’t drop the book into a vat of his own urine, take pictures of it, and sell it as in-your-face art. He simply put a text in an operating plumbing fixture in a college library in New York. For that, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is pressing for the State to throw the book at him (probably not the same book, though). CAIR’s cry of “hate crime” means they view Shmulevich’s act as comparable a couple of thugs beating a kid up for being gay. In CAIR’s view, even dropping a copy of their holy book on the floor is justification for mobs to rise up in foreign countries and riot over the insult. I guess they’re feeling flush with power, and they’re pulling the Feds’ chain.

Stanislav Shmulevich did something rude, insensitive, and offensive to many people, but where is it written that anybody in this country has the right to be protected --by the federal government -- from having his feelings hurt or sensibilities shocked? Since when has our Constitution allowed for Federal prosecution for hurting somebody’s feelings? And, dammit, why wasn’t I made aware of this when I was still in my overly-sensitive teen years? I could have had the entire cheerleading squad sent to Statesville Penitentiary, in Joliet, for life (if only they’d had a women’s wing).

If it’s not okay for Christians to prosecute for Andres Serrano’s federally-funded “Andres Serrano's "Piss Christ",” if it’s not okay for Catholics, specifically, to prosecute Chris Ofili for putting elephant dung on a portrait of the Virgin Mary, why is it, then, expected that our own government prosecute a student for placing a Qur'an in the toilet? What makes Islam so special in the eyes of our government -- a government which supposedly does not recognize one religion over any other? When did they add an Amendment to the Constitution negating the First Amendment by stating that desecration or blasphemy -- for any religion -- but, worse still, for one religion alone, was the responsibility of the Feds to prosecute?

What makes this young man a felon?

I could understand if Pace University wanted to press vandalism charges -- the book did belong to a university library. I’m generally against damaging books, anyway. Shmulevich should replace the copy he destroyed, and maybe do some service in a public library, to teach him a little respect for the printed word, whose ever it is. Even if I don’t like the content of a library book, I still expect those who enter the library to show some consideration for the next reader, and I’d understand if it were decided that the library and librarian receive a little recompense for the damage.

But, somehow, I can’t understand caving in to a demand -- from a group well-known for its support of terrorists and terrorist organizations -- to prosecute a book-soaker for inciting hatred or terrorizing citizens. And I can’t understand people thinking that this is anything close to a reasonable act on the part of college or government.

It seems to me, this case should be put precisely where Shmulevich put that tome. And, if it is not, it would appear somebody has already sent our Constitution deep down that very drain.

Suggested reading:
CAIR's connection to the case is demonstrated, so to speak
Eugene Volokh examines the case, the law and the ramifications.

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