Another Perspective

The General and the Constitution

Has the head of U.S. forces in Afghanistan not heard of it?

By 9.8.10

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What is it with General David Petraeus, head of U.S. forces in Afghanistan? Has he not heard of the Constitution?

Let me explain what I mean. Now we are at the nine-year anniversary of the horrible 9/11 terrorism that killed over 3,000 Americans. Various people are marking the event's anniversary in various ways. One of the kookier ways is that a small church in Gainesville, Florida is hosting -- or is planning to host -- a burning of the Islamic Holy Book, the Koran. The burning, a nutty idea, is to protest the church's views of Islam as intolerant.

This is a tiny little church and it will be a small event.

But however small an event it is, it's peaceful, does not involve violence, and should be fully protected by the Constitution.

Of course, as one might expect, some Muslims are infuriated by this plan and I don't blame them. It's infuriating. But it's still protected by the Constitution as an exercise of religious freedom.

Now comes General Petraeus, who says that people are rioting over this in Afghanistan, which is true, and that the church should not go ahead with its planned burning because it will make Muslims angry at the U.S. and they will take it out on U.S. troops.

Now, I am sure General Petraeus has a good point here. But, here is a bigger point: we are not supposed to have military men telling American civilians what they can and cannot do in their houses of worship. Yes, General Petraeus is an important figure. By the way, he's also the soldier who said American support of Israel made Muslims angry at U.S. troops and I don't think Generals are supposed to be making foreign policy either. But certainly, generals, even with a lot of stars on their epaulets, are not in charge of free speech and religious observance here.

Really, it's even worse than that. He is saying that freedom of religion in America makes his job more difficult. But free exercise of religion comes way before how difficult his job is. And, yes, we don't want to offend Muslims, but why would we even consider sacrificing our freedom of religious expression to cater to them? And what kind of war is won by kowtowing to the people who hate us?

Something's wrong here. Good luck in Afghanistan, General, but freedom of religious expression is a lot bigger than you or even the war in Afghanistan.

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About the Author

Ben Stein is a writer, actor, economist, and lawyer living in Beverly Hills and Malibu. He writes "Ben Stein's Diary" for every issue of The American Spectator.