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AG Holder Trashes Civil Rights


Remember a few days ago, when, in response to the controversy about the Ground Zero Mosque, liberals were reminding us of the First Amendment and  -- at an even higher decibel level  -- the value of tolerance, even for religious expression some might find hurtful and offensive?

Remember that?

Now there's a new controversy involving a minister for a small congregation in Florida.  The minister is planning to burn copies of the Koran to protest Islam (or something  --  I confess I don't understand precisely what he has in mind).

Are the liberals reminding us of all that tolerance stuff that was so important last week?

Not exactly.  Here's what a leading liberal, who also happens to be our chief prosecutor (and thus in a uniquely menacing position to chill speech) has to say.  Fox News reports:

WASHINGTON -  Attorney General Eric Holder is calling the planned burning of the Quran at a Florida church idiotic and dangerous.

That's the word from religious leaders who met with Holder for nearly an hour Tuesday to discuss recent attacks on Muslims and mosques around the United States.

The meeting was closed to reporters, but a Justice Department official who was present confirmed that Holder said that the plan by the Rev. Terry Jones to burn copies of the Quran at his church in Gainesville, Fla., Saturday was idiotic.

 'Lan sakes alive!  Not a word about tolerance, pluralism, the First Amendment or any of that.

For the record, Mr. Holder is correct on the merits.  Burning the Koran is idiotic and dangerous (as General Patraeus has noted).  To treat all Muslims as terrorists, and the Koran as a terror manual, is, for starters, factually wildly incorrect, not to mention disgraceful.  But the point to remember is that our Attorney General appears to be quite selective in his appreciation of free speech rights.  Some conservative extremists might worry about this.


Is Holder guilty of applying a double standard? Yes. Is he trashing civil rights? No.

Jones appears to be unclear on the distinction between having a right to do something (meaning the government can't punish you for it) and it being the right thing to do.

His plan is indeed idiotic, and while the government can't punish him for it (and Holder isn't threatening to), everyone else including Holder has an equal First Amendment right to call an idiot an idiot.

And, unlike Jones's protected but asinine expression, doing so is both right and a right.

I agree that Holder is right on the merits (as previously noted). I also agree that, as an individual, he has a right to call Rev. Jones a jerk. The problem is that Eric Holder cannot be seen as merely an individual -- something of which he is obviously aware, since no one would give a hoot about his opinion if he were just the next lawyer hanging out in Washington. But that is precisely what he is not. He is the chief prosecutor.

It's true that Holder is not threatening to punish Jones. But in the First Amendment context, creating a chill is the next "best" thing to an overt threat of punishment. I have not objected to any other officer of the government calling Jones an idiot, including Gen. Patraeus and Sec. Clinton. But they can't send in the FBI or subpoena you before a grand jury. Holder can. He doesn't need to say it, since everyone knows it.

Is Holder crazy enough to do that? I don't think so, since even some of the press that abets (and joins) him in the double standard you correctly identify would have problems with that. But precisely because the chief prosecutor has no legitimate business purpose with Jones' idiotic stunt, he should keep his views to himself.

Consider, too, what the reaction would have been if, for example, Alberto Gonzales had raised a furrowed brow and directed criticism at those planning to build the Ground Zero Mosque. The NYT and the LAT would have exploded with rage. We would have been warned that McCarthyism was on the march, if not Nazism.

Prosecutors wield enormous discretionary power, and the chief prosecutor all the more so. It is for that reason that they are required to act with more restraint and modesty than other government officials, whose power is generally limited to merely wasting billions. In my last post, I noted how much trust in government has deteriorated and worried about the consequences thereof. Trust will not be enhanced, and in my view will be further undermined, when the head of the Justice Department decides to take very public aim at the idiotic, but constitutionally protected, actions of private citizens.

Cully Stimson of Heritage weighs in here.

Certainly not the type of measured, judicious, response one would expect from an AG whose first official pronouncement was to excoriate Americans as a "Nation of Cowards" for being reticent to discuss racial matters.

I agree with Bill that this was not an appropriate resonse from the chief law enforcement officer in the land. As the Black Panther voter intimidation case exhibited, Holder is only interested in enforcing certain voting rights and certain free speech rights. Americans don't want an AG who acts like a frustrated blogger but one whose sole mission is even-handed enforcement of the law.

What about forcing American servicemen in Guantanamo Bay to handle Korans with gloves?

I'd say that's pretty offensive too.

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