By Bryan Reynolds

A couple of weeks ago, near the anniversary of 9/11, a preacher from Florida announced that he and his congregation were going to burn copies of the Quran. After a few days of heated arguments from the media and politicians, the preacher, Terry Jones, finally decided to back down. However, a random man in New York City seemed to have been inspired by Jones, prompting him to tear up and burn a copy of the Quran at the Ground Zero mosque site.

The man was very proud of himself after his display, and Jones might have been, too. In fact, I’m sure a lot of other Americans were just as impressed. After all, this is America and we have the First Amendment here. That means we can do or say anything we want and no one can stop us.

A couple of days later in Kashmir, India, when the government announced that the holy text had been desecrated in America, thousands of people took to the street in protest. They burned a Christian missionary school and clashed with police. Thirteen people were killed, and dozens more were injured.

I wonder just how proud the man who burned the Quran would be after learning that his actions led to the deaths of innocent people? Is Terry Jones feeling all righteous now?

There’s an old saying, chances are you’ve all heard it, “The pen is mightier then the sword.”

With a gun, a person can take a life. With the right words, a person can essentially do the same thing-and potentially do even more damage than that, as the protests in India illustrate.

Thanks to the Constitution, we refer to free speech as a right. But maybe it shouldn’t be. We can basically say what ever we want so long as it doesn’t put people’s lives directly in jeopardy.

For instance, we can’t walk into a crowded theater and yell “Fire!” The panic that would ensue would put people in danger, and that would amount to a criminal offense.

But isn’t that what these two men did with their Quran burning stunts? Thirteen people lost their lives as a result of their actions. Free speech is a right, but it also can be a dangerous one. It’s one that everyone enjoys, and yet many don’t hesitate to abuse it to fulfill their own agenda.

For instance, take the preacher who visits campus every so often shouting his hate speech to anyone who has the misfortune of passing by. Does he actually believe everything he is saying or is he merely trying to get a rise out of people? With all the camera people present, filming his every move, I’m under the impression that he’s just trying to start something so he can sue the school and make a bit of easy money. His “free speech” seems more along the lines of an elaborate con.

Or how about the Ku Klux Klan and other neo-Nazi groups? Should they be allowed to publicly spew hate because of the First Amendment? Racial hatred has been a disease upon this world for hundreds of years, but it doesn’t need to be that way any longer.

It seems that people who want to just live and let live outnumber the hate-mongers these days, and yet we allow these people to continue. Is it because we actually believe they have the right to their views or are we just obsessed with preserving the tradition of free speech? It’s not like their exercise of free speech produces anything of value.

I am all for free speech. I have an opinion on everything and a lot to say. I’m happy when I actually get to say it. But maybe free speech should be licensed, like owning a gun or driving a car. That way, we can keep the hate-mongering to a minimum and maybe save some lives.

Or maybe that’s the whole point of free speech? It can be ugly. It can be abused. And maybe that’s better than the alternatives.