Mayor defends Fla. pastor's right to burn Quran

Pastor Terry Jones

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said on Tuesday that a Florida minister's plan to burn the Muslim holy book on Sept. 11 is "distasteful," but that the minister has a right to do it.

Bloomberg was asked about Pastor Terry Jones' plan to burn copies of the Quran on Saturday, the ninth anniversary of the terror attacks, amid a national debate about a planned Islamic center near ground zero. Jones is the pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center, a small, evangelical Christian church with an anti-Islam philosophy in Gainesville, Fla.

"In a strange way, I'm here to defend his right to do that. I happen to think that it is distasteful. I don't think he would like it if somebody burned a book that in his religion he thinks is holy," the mayor said following a news conference about the progress of the reconstruction at the World Trade Center site.

He emphasized that Jones' planned act is protected by free speech rights. "We can't say that we're going to apply the First Amendment to only those cases where we are in agreement."

In recent weeks, the mayor has been defending the rights of Muslims to build a house of worship about two blocks north of the site of the attacks led by Islamist extremists that destroyed the World Trade Center and killed nearly 2,800 people.

During a dinner on Aug. 24 in observance of Iftar, the breaking of the daily fast during Ramadan, Bloomberg said opposing the construction of the proposed center, which would include a mosque, would be "compromising our commitment to fighting terror with freedom."

On Tuesday, the U.S. State Department called on Americans to "stand up" and denounce the planned Quran burning as "un-American" and as an inappropriate commemoration of the 9/11 attacks.

Officials have said the provocative act could endanger U.S. troops, diplomats and travelers overseas.

Original Story:

An American pastor from a small evangelical Christian church in Florida is causing an international outcry because of what he has planned for the upcoming anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks. Pastor Terry Jones is planning to observe the day with what he calls "Burn a Koran" Day.

It's sparking protests and outrage in Afghanistan and throughout much of the world. Check out this website for the Dove World Outreach Center where Pastor Jones slams Islam and proclaims September 11th "International Burn a Koran Day." On the website, there is even a list of the top ten reasons to burn a Koran .

And that's not all. There's a Facebook page with nearly 8,500 fans and hundreds of comments. One person writes, "This is exactly what Evil wants of Humankind. Division and malice amongst all of us and to dishonor ourselves, and God first and foremost." Another writes, "The pastor is right...we need to face this problem sooner than later. The longer we wait the bigger price we will pay...Burn them!"

Many Muslim communities are outraged. "This type of hate speech actually incites radicals and extremist across the globe," said Asad Ba-Yunis, a member of the Muslim Communities Association of South Florida. At the Islamic Center of Greater Miami, there's concern about potential backlash and the possibility of hate crimes against innocent Islamic worshippers. "While we all recognize the first amendment freedom of speech and expression that the Dove Center has, we also recognize that the freedom of religion and the intolerance that's attacking that freedom of religion is something we must all stand against," Ba-Yunis said.

There's even concern at the highest level of the military. General David Petraeus, top U.S. Commander in Afghanistan, says the plan to burn Korans could increase the danger to his troops and Americans worldwide. "Images of the burning of a Quran would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan - and around the world - to inflame public opinion and incite violence," General Petraeus said. It's already ignited protests for two days in Afghanistan, with some burning American flags and shouting, "Death to America."

Pastor Jones says he's taking seriously the warning from General Petraeus, but he also defends his plans saying, "It's very, very important that America wakes up."

Do you think the Pastor has a right to hold this event? Should anything be done to stop it? Do you think it will endanger American troops and incite more violence? Leave your comments below.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this article.