Quran Burning in the U.S: Examining the Interactions of Free Speech and Religious Freedom in International Law



News that a church in Florida in the United States intended to commemorate the September 11, 2001 attacks, by holding what it called “Burn a Quran day”, has shocked reasonable-minded persons all over the world. Any rational person could recognize that the public burning of the Quran would ignite strong emotions in Muslims. It was possibly the most insulting act that one could perform and is condemned by many international documents such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and also many other regional and national instruments.
Islam is a religion that invites humanity to monotheism, spirituality, fraternity and peace. The right to practice one’s religion means that a person should be able to practice his or her religion without fear that he or she will be persecuted. It is in this context that the burning of the holy Quran constitutes a violation of human rights, specifically the right of Muslims to practice their religion without fear of persecution. While the exercise of free speech is a human right and burning books may be seen as an expression of that right, it should not trump the right to express one’s culture and practice one’s religion. In this article, after examining what has happened in the U.S. in 9/11, the situation is analyzed by focusing on these two rights (Freedom of Speech and Religious Freedom) and their interactions.