Quran Burning Legal? Protest Possibly Protected

The same free speech protections that allow the American flag to be burned at protests could also apply to a Florida minister's plans to burn copies of the Quran on the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
In Florida Wednesday, the Rev. Terry Jones heard the complaints - the outrage - from church groups, the military and world leaders against his plans to burn the Quran Saturday, the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Still, Jones insisted he will go ahead as planned outside his small church in Gainesville.

But with such officials as Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Gainesville Mayor Craig Lowe opposing Jones' protest, does the government have the power to stop him?

CBS News Chief Legal Correspondent Jan Crawford reports the city's ordnance that requires a permit to burn trash outdoors could conceivably limit burning books outdoors. But that law has to be evenly applied. Otherwise as long as those are his Qurans on his property, the government can't stop him.

Complete Coverage: 9/11 Nine Years Later

Under the First Amendment, Jones has a constitutional right to protest and express his ideas, even ones that the government thinks are dangerous or unpatriotic.

That's why the Supreme Court struck down a law banning flag burning. In that case, the court said prohibiting people from mutilating the American flag was an illegal attempt to restrain speech.

If this act incites violence against Muslims, that could make it a different case. The Constitution only allows a few restrictions on speech.

The Supreme Court has ruled that speech that directly incites violence or some kind of physical retaliation is not protected under the First Amendment. But while this is true in theory, the court has rarely banned that kind of speech or conduct.

Even cross burning - considered by many to be the most virulent and hateful type of speech - doesn't necessarily rise to that level. The court in 2003 struck down part of a Virginia law that banned cross burning, saying it's illegal only if it's done to specifically intimidate someone or signal they're about to be a target of violence.

More Quran Burning Coverage:

Quran Burning Still on for 9/11, Minister Says
Quran Burning Protests in Afghanistan
Pastor Will Not Cancel Quran Burning
Jones: Judaism, Other Religions "Of The Devil"
Hillary Clinton: Quran Burning Not American Way
Clinton: Quran Burning Does Not "Represent America"
Bloomberg: Pastor Has Right to Burn Quran
Angelina Jolie Condemns Planned Quran Burning
Rev. Terry Jones: Quran Burning "Very Necessary"
AG Holder: Quran Burning Idiotic, Dangerous
Pastor: I Know Quran Burning is Insulting
Pastor on Plan for Quran Burning
Extended Interview: Rev. Terry Jones
Terry Jones, The Man Behind "Burn A Quran Day"
White House Laments Quran Burning Plan
Dove World Outreach Center: Where Does the Money Go?
Petraeus: Burning Qurans Could Endanger Troops
Afghans Protest Fla. Church's Plan to Burn Quran
Fla. Church Denied Permit to Burn Qurans

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    Jan Crawford is CBS News Chief Political and Legal Correspondent. She is from "Crossroads," Alabama.