Florida Church Draws International Attention Over Quran-Burning Threat

A small church in Florida attracted international attention and widespread condemnation after its pastor vowed to burn copies of the Quran to mark the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Pastor Terry Jones’ threat reverberated around the world, sparking headlines and even led to condemnation by Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also weighed in, calling the church’s plans “disgraceful” in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations. President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder also blasted the plan.

Prior to the threat, Jones’ church, Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, was unknown to most Americans. The small congregation has only about 50 members and is known locally for making outrageous public statements and for releasing vicious attacks on Muslims, gay people and others who fail to agree with its narrow fundamentalist theology.

But the church was not new to Americans United. In March, Americans United asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate Dove World Outreach after the church posted a sign on its property reading “No Homo Mayor.”

The reference was to Craig Lowe, a mayoral candidate who is gay. Contacted about the matter by the Gainesville Sun, Jones admitted that the church had erected the sign.

“We don’t feel as though the city should be represented by a homosexual,” said Jones.

The stunt brought the church under scrutiny. In August, city officials announced that the congregation is going to have to pay taxes on part of its 20-acre property. Jones has apparently been using church facilities to run a furniture business, which is not a tax-exempt religious enterprise.

Days before Sept. 11, Jones announced that he would not burn Qurans after all. He insisted that he had dropped the idea after the planners behind an Islamic cultural center in New York City agreed to move their facility away from the area near the 2001 attacks. But the planners disputed the claim, saying they had promised Jones nothing.