On Saturday, September 11, 2010, a man in New York City decided to protest the planned mosque/Muslim cultural center planned to be built near the site of Ground Zero. He bravely, if not untastefully or insensibly or foolishly or disrespectfully, tore pages from the Koran (one which I am assuming was his own personal property) and he then burned them as a form of protest. His name is Derek Fenton and he lives in New Jersey; he used to work in New Jersey too but apparently not anymore. You see, New Jersey Transit, his one time employer of 11 years, his employer on the day he burned pages of a book, reportedly fired him.(1) Amazingly the governor of NJ reportedly supported his firing.(2) Why? Because, reportedly according to them, he violated their ethics code for employees even though he did this on his own time.
According to the New York Daily News article, a statement from NJ Transit said this:
"Mr. Fenton's public actions violated New Jersey Transit's code of ethics," (3)
I was not aware that any form of exercise of free speech (or expression) would violate a code of ethics of a state run agency when the ethics seem to be based upon the religious beliefs of one religion. To me that seems as if the government is taking the side of a religion, heck it seems as if they are enforcing the religion. As a NYCU representative reportedly pointed out (4), flag burning is protected speech in this country. Would Mr. Fenton have been fired had he burned the American Flag in protest? Mind you I am not saying that a man like Mr. Fenton would ever even consider burning the American Flag. Would he had been fired had he stood up at a podium, in front of the proposed center, and said something to this effect:
"I do not believe in Allah, I believe Mohammad was a minor prophet at best, I do not believe the Koran to be a holy book, I believe Jesus is the Lord God, therefore I believe the Koran to be false prophecy and Allah to be a false god."
Would they have fired him for professing his religious beliefs because said statement of beliefs violated their ethics? I know, and so should you, the above statement would probably be almost equally as repugnant to Muslims as would burning the Koran but how would it violate an ethics code? Would they have fired him for drawing a satirical cartoon of Mohammad? That too would probably be equally as repugnant as burning the Koran to Muslims as can be witnessed by the riots that ensued a few years back when someone did just that but how would it violate an ethics code. I doubt they would have had the chutzpah to have fired him for either because it would have been a clear cut violation of Mr. Fenton's civil rights under the most important document in this land and folks that document is not the Koran, it is the U.S. Constitution! So why have they fired him for professing his beliefs, or for protesting, by way of a book burning?
Whether or not Mr. Fenton's actions were sensible, whether or not they were tasteful, whether or not they were disgusting, whether or not controversial, whether or not those actions were liked by Muslims or those of any other religion, whether or not they were disrespectful of someone else's religious beliefs (remember that every day, the Muslim faithful could be considered disrespectful to Christianity by their belief that Jesus Christ was a minor prophet and not God) Mr. Fenton has the right to do what he did so long as his actions did not otherwise constitute a crime (and even then it is possible they could later be deemed as free speech) or constitute fighting words. So my guess is that NJ Transit will later explain that they fired Mr. Fenton because he violated some NY City law about starting a fire or something like that and that was what they considered a violation of their ethics code; otherwise they will rehire him or Mr. Fenton will sue them for a civil rights violation and win. I cannot imagine they will admit they fired him because he burned a Koran as a form of protest and therefore offended Muslims; I cannot believe we have buckled under allowing our rights to have been totally destroyed and ourselves to have been conquered by a religion.
When the Virgin Mary of Christianity can be portrayed with feces smeared all over picture of her and the government allows it calling it art (and I believe paid for it or paid to display it), when a movie can depict Jesus Christ and his apostles as homosexuals, when someone can run our flag through the dirt and piss on it or burn it, when anyone can buy pornographic material at a local news stand, when a whole faith can profess that the God of another religion was merely a prophet, when politicians can lie repeatedly in connection with their official duties and get caught at it and yet remain in office, when atheists can successfully demand removal of religious symbols from public property and when all the above can be protected as free speech - then there is something very wrong with NJ Transit firing Mr. Fenton for having burned pages the Koran (that is of course if that is why they fired him, they are not giving specifics yet as far as I am aware).
If that is why they fired him, and then if NJ Transit does not relent, which I am betting they will do so after successfully placing pressure on Mr. Fenton to apologize for his actions, then you as fellow Americans of Mr. Fenton should protest his firing and support his anticipated legal claim(s) against NJ and NJ Transit. It does not matter if you are religious or not, nor what religion of which you may be a member, nor whether or not you think Mr. Fenton did a wise or honorable or disgusting or stupid or terrible thing. What matters are our rights and our Constitution, the basis of all our laws and legal actions and that they have quite possibly been violated in Mr. Fenton's case. So yes, I am saying if he asks for donations to fight NJ transit you should give to him. If he does not ask for anything, then you ought to at least be showing him support, or showing our rights under the Constitution support, by contacting NJ Transit and the NJ Governor's office to condemn the firing of Mr. Fenton.
I think everyone in this country ought to be very afraid that their rights are not only being trampled but are being destroyed by the government to honor a specific religion, that of Islam. After all, when was the last time you heard of a government agency firing someone for offending Jews or Christians or atheists? The 1st Amendment protects speech and included in that is offensive speech (or expression) no matter whom it offends. It is one of the rights we enjoy as American Citizens and legal resident aliens. As Americans, it is or should be more important to all of us than should the tenants of any single religion because it is in part the bedrock of our freedoms and our rights and of our nation. Without freedom of speech our country would never have been born, our Constitution never written and agreed upon, and our other freedoms never expressed nor enjoyed. You may not like Mr. Fenton or what he did but you had best not like, even more so, they who would attempt to suppress his rights because his rights are your rights and your rights are his.
All the best,
3) same as 1
4) same as 1