When the Founding Fathers crafted the First Amendment, they clearly had the Voltaire in mind.
Naturally they couldn't foresee the myriad ways the freedoms of assembly, religion, and speech would be tested. But they knew that the freedom of speech applied to all, not some.
And so Wiltonians, like the rest of Americans, have witnessed the ugly side to that amendment; whether it was the 1977 Nazi march in Skokie, Ill. or the more recent protesters bearing signs condemning soldiers outside military funerals.
As Associate Justice Stephen Breyer of the Supreme Court told Larry King the other night:
"We protect expression that we hate. When you have a country of 300 million different people who think different things, it is helpful. It is helpful to tell everyone, 'You can think what you want.'"
Of course that doesn't make it any less repugnant when people use the First Amendment to incite hatred, peddle prejudice, or, like a certain Florida pastor, manufacture an event in order to gain 15 minutes of frenzied fame.
When Terry Jones, who has a congregation of about 50, announced his intention to burn the Qu'ran, he ignited a firestorm that still burns. Afghan civilians are still taking to the streets to protest.
However, there is another piece to the Jones story. And that's the news media. The media chooses what to cover. It can also choose what not to cover. Giving that man a platform showed a serious lapse in judgment.
Anderson Cooper's "AC 360" didn't need to put him on prime time. The Today Show didn't need to sit him down in Studio 1A.
Even when media knew Jones had manipulated them they continued to chase the story. The soul searching came after Jones announced he wouldn't burn the book after all.
That "Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…" is clear. But as Bill Keller, executive editor of The New York Times, said in a Sept. 9 article: "The freedom to publish includes the freedom not to publish."