In late May, U.S. military commanders relieved a Marine of his duties in Iraq. His offense? Handing out coins with Bible verses at checkpoints in Fallujah. Military regs forbid proselytizing. CNN quoted the chief of staff of the Multi-National Force, West, saying the incident had the "full attention" of the brass. "We deeply value our relationship with the local citizens and share their concerns over this serious incident," he said.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, officials in Fairfax and the State Department are in Year III in the ongoing effort to get a Saudi-funded school in Fairfax County to clean up its act. In 2006 the Saudi government promised it would review and amend textbooks used at the Islamic Saudi Academy (ISA). Among other things, the textbooks celebrated martyrdom and jihad, called Jews apes and Christians pigs, and provided diagrams for high-school students on how to chop off the hands and feet of thieves.
Both the congressionally established U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and the Saudi government agree that the textbooks need rewriting, and some of the more outrageous passages have been removed. But other passages remain -- such as those terming jihad the "pinnacle of Islam" and championing "martyrdom in the path of Allah" as "honorable."
As one member of the religious-freedom commission notes, Saudi Arabia of all countries ought to exercise more discretion, given that 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were Saudi nationals. Does the Saudi government deeply value its relationship with the local citizens in Fairfax, not far from the Pentagon that was hit by American Airlines Flight 77?
The ISA is a private school, albeit one controlled by a foreign government. It deserves just as much freedom to teach odd and alarming notions on U.S. soil as that enjoyed by young-Earth creationists, white supremacists, or any other extremists. For that matter, it deserves more freedom here than Christians are granted when they travel to Saudi Arabia, where any Bible is likely to be confiscated at the border.
Washington should not simply shut down the ISA through the Foreign Missions Act, as some have advocated. America generally has had more success defeating noxious notions through persuasion; censorship usually backfires. But neither do American governmental bodies need to give tacit approval of the outrageous by leasing space to the school, as Fairfax does.
Tolerance doesn't require putting up the enemies of an open society -- it only requires putting up with them. If the ISA can't find a box of blue pencils in short order, then Fairfax should cancel the lease, kick the school off county property, and tell its administrators to find another landlord -- if they can.