Pastor, Despite Protests, Still Plans Quran Burning

September 9th, 2010 by Staff

Source: The Wall Street Journal — The pastor of a small Florida church who has pledged to incinerate copies of the Quran on Sept. 11 said Wednesday he would press ahead with the plan, despite pleas from the Obama administration, U.S. military officials, the Vatican and religious leaders around the world.

“As of right now, we are not convinced that backing down is the right thing,” said Terry Jones, pastor of the 50-member Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla.

The church’s plans have been denounced by Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and other senior military officials who say they fear images of a burning Quran could be used to drum up anger toward the U.S. and potentially endanger troops.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the church’s actions “disgraceful” in a speech Wednesday to the Council on Foreign Relations. Protests against the plan have also come from the Republican and Democratic candidates for Florida governor, as well as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

Meanwhile, Muslim media from Turkey to Afghanistan warned that burning the sacred text of Islam could deepen animosity toward the West.

While leaders of Muslim nations have refrained from commenting on the Quran controversy so far, editorials and news bulletins broadcast on state television mostly focused on how the issue had drawn harsh criticism from U.S. officials and world religious leaders.

Iran called Mr. Jones a “Christian Zionist” who was supported by Israel and belonged to a fringe fundamentalist Christian group seeking confrontation between Christians and Muslims.

“America must contain this pastor if it wants to avoid a confrontation with the Muslim world,” Mohsen Pak Aien, the head of Organization for Islamic Culture and Communication, told Iran’s Tabnak news website.

Fars News, a news agency affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, carried a statement by a senior Iranian cleric warning President Barack Obama that he would have to bear responsibility for the actions of Mr. Jones if the Quran is burned on Saturday.

“The dangers of this despicable action are clear to all. It will ignite massive fires of anger and hatred toward America. The U.S. government and president will be held accountable if this happens in their country,” said Grand Ayatollah Lotfollah Sadeghi Golpaygani, according to Fars News.

The two top Arabic news channels, Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, reported the news in the context of a backlash in the U.S. against Muslims, and questioned how U.S. leaders could continue calling for peace and religious tolerance in other countries, if these episodes continued to flare up in America.

Mr. Jones’s plans also drew censure locally in Gainesville, where despite its small size, the 24-year-old nondenominational church is well-known and has been under intense government scrutiny.

Mayor Craig Lowe—a target of a Dove World Outreach protest earlier this year—asked residents and visitors to stay away from the church this weekend. Mr. Jones plans to burn the Quran copies in a bonfire Saturday evening between 6 and 9 p.m.

“They are known locally as a fringe group,” Mr. Lowe said. “They’re an embarrassment to the community.”

A newly formed coalition of local Muslims in Gainesville is organizing charitable events on Saturday evening meant to divert attention from the planned burning.

Mr. Lowe, who was elected in April and is gay, sparred with Mr. Jones when the church posted videos on its website decrying Mr. Lowe’s sexuality and staged a “no homo mayor” protest at City Hall.

The condemnation of Mr. Lowe’s candidacy subsequently jeopardized the church’s federal tax-exempt status, after Americans United for Separation of Church and State, an advocacy group, complained to the Internal Revenue Service this year that the church violated federal standards. Houses of worship must refrain from endorsing or condemning specific candidates to maintain tax-exempt status.

At the same time, the Alachua County Property Appraiser’s Office took the rare step this year of revoking tax-exempt status for part of the 11,000 square-foot Dove World Outreach building, after learning that Mr. Jones and his wife, Sylvia, operate an antique-furniture business called TS & Co. from the church property. TS & Co. has been selling thousands of pieces of furniture over eBay since 2005, though it has no furniture currently for sale on the online auction site.

Mr. Jones’s planned actions have put the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida in a delicate position. The group is suing the local public-school system on behalf of two families who attend Dove World Outreach. The families have children who wore T-shirts emblazoned with “Islam is of the Devil” to school last year and were asked to not wear them or to cover them up.

The Florida ACLU condemned Mr. Jones’s message Wednesday as un-American but defended his right to free speech.”We cannot pick and choose who is protected by the Constitution,” spokesman Brandon Hensler said. “We’re very concerned about this wave of anti-Muslim sentiment. But the answer is not to infringe on their right to say what they want to say.”

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