Fla. pastor presides at burning of Quran

March 21, 2011

(RNS) The controversial Florida pastor who halted plans to burn a Quran
on the 9/11 anniversary last year oversaw the burning of the Islamic
holy book on Sunday (March 20) after it was found "guilty" during a
"trial" at his church.


"We had a court process," said Pastor Terry Jones, who acted as
judge, in a phone interview. "We tried to set it up as fair as possible,
which you can imagine, of course, is very difficult."


Jones said about 30 people attended the mock trial at his Dove World
Outreach Center in Gainesville.


Jones considered the "International Judge the Quran Day" to be a
fairer way of addressing the Islamic holy book, and denied breaking
earlier promises not to burn a Quran.


If the jury had reached a different conclusion, Jones said he would
have issued an apology for his accusations that the Quran promotes
violence.


"We still don't feel that we broke our word -- that was in
relationship to International Burn a Quran Day," he said, referring to
his previous plan to burn a pile of Qurans on the 9/11 anniversary to
protest plans for an Islamic community center near Ground Zero. "We
would not establish another International Burn a Quran Day."


Last year's aborted event provoked criticism from U.S. religious
leaders, violent protests abroad and pressure from President Obama and
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates before Jones called it off.


After a six-hour trial on Sunday that featured a Christian convert
from Islam as a prosecuting attorney and a Dallas imam as a defense
lawyer, a jury of 12 church members and volunteers made the judgment,
Jones said.


He said the punishment -- burning the book after it had been soaked
in kerosene for an hour -- was determined from four choices on his
organization's Facebook page. He said "several hundred" were polled and
voted for burning over shredding, drowning and facing a firing squad.


Jones considered the burning -- which was conducted by another
pastor since Jones was serving as the judge -- a one-time event.


"That is not our intention, to run around America burning Qurans,"
he said.


Jones has launched a new organization, Stand Up America, and plans
to protest the Quran, Shariah law and "radical Islam," and has scheduled
an April event in front of an Islamic center in Dearborn, Mich.


Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic
Relations, declined to comment at length about Jones' trial.


"Terry Jones had his 15 minutes of fame and we're not going to help
him get another few minutes," he said.