September 21, 2008

Burning the First Amendment

... by Walter Brasch

"Got a match?"

I didn't know where he came from, but there he was, right behind me—as usual. "You know I don't smoke," I told Marshbaum. "Come to think of it, you don't either. What's up?"

"Not much. Planning to roast some marshmallows and hotdogs. Burn some books."

"Marshbaum," I commanded. "You can't burn books."

"Sure I can. All I need is a match. See, first you—"

"Burning books is against everything this country stands for."

"Not when the books are evil."

"Didn't you ever read anything Jefferson wrote? Our country was founded upon the principle that all views must be heard."

"My view is that we're going to burn some books to keep them from causing any more trouble."

I could have given Marshbaum a 30-minute lecture about how we no longer have a history of the pre-Columbian Aztec civilization because Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century destroyed the writings of one of the world's greatest civilizations. I could have given him a few words from philosopher John Stuart Mill who stated, "We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavoring to stifle is a false opinion, and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still." Maybe a little wisdom from Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes who told us that democracy is best served in a "marketplace of ideas." But, I knew Marshbaum was in no mood to hear philosophy. So, all I said was a sarcastic, "I assume you plan to burn everything you think is evil."

"Mooseburger Palin agrees with me," said a smug Marshbaum.

"Sarah Palin may be a lot of things," I said, "but I doubt she believes in burning books."

"As mayor of Wasilla, she objected to some books in the library, and then fired the librarian who protested ham-handed attempts to censor books."

"Palin said she fired the librarian because of the librarian wasn't loyal to her, and it had nothing to do with censorship issues."

"Believe that, and I'll sell you a bridge to nowhere real cheap."

"She did rehire the librarian," I said, "probably saw the error of her ways."

"Only after the whole town objected to the firing," said Marshbaum.

"Sarah Palin has some views that are a bit outside the mainstream America, but she didn't ask that the books be burned."

"Didn't have to," said Marshbaum, "her church says it. Assembly of God churches regularly hold book burnings. Burned Elvis records in the '50s and '60s. Burned Harry Potter books this century. Pick out a book, CD, or video, and the Assembly of God probably condemned it to a fiery furnace." From his knapsack, Marshbaum brought out a sheaf of newspaper articles, pamphlets, and press releases, all of which were about or from Assembly of God churches. "Pick one, any one," he directed. Like a mark at a card magic show, I picked a flyer from one church in Butler, Pa. The pastor had asked the public to "Cleanse your house from ungodly items and idols. It's time to deal with ungodly and demonic books, tapes, videos, statues and any other thing that gives demons the opportunity to traffic into your life." The subsequent bonfire immolated Harry Potter, Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, and Pinocchio.

"Even if the Assembly of God is a book burner's paradise, Palin is no longer a member," I pointed out.

"Not the point," said Marshbaum. She was a member of the Wasilla Assembly of God for more than 25 years, and not once did she ever condemn the words of her own pastors or her church's proclivity as literary arsonists. She still attends activities at the church, even attends an Assembly of God church in Juneau. Besides, just this past June she told the members, 'It was so cool growing up in this church and getting saved here.' She thinks being a member of a church that burns books and whose current pastor believes that people who criticize George W. Bush will burn in Hell is coooool." As a revelation, Marshbaum then screamed out, "As governor, she even named a street in Wasilla after the founding pastor."

"So, I assume you still want me to loan you a match," I said, "even though you know burning books is wrong."

"Nah," said a mischievous Marshbaum, "I'm just jerking you. I'm really going to light a candle for Mooseburger. Maybe God will forgive her trespasses."

Near the candle in whatever house of worship Marshbaum chooses is the spirit of John Milton who, in 1644, wrote: "as good almost kill a Man as kill a good Book; who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God's image; but he who destroys a good book, kills Reason itself, kills the Image of God, as it were in the eye." Milton's writings became a base for the First Amendment to our Constitution.

[Dr. Brasch is professor of mass communications at Bloomsburg University. His latest book is Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush, available through and other stores. You may contact him at or through his website,]

Posted by Walter Brasch at September 21, 2008 10:27 AM | Guest Writings | Technorati links |