Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., may have “suspended” plans to burn copies of the Quran on the anniversary of 9/11. But the controversial Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., says it will burn the Quran. In fact, it already has.
The Westboro Baptist Church (which has been disavowed by all Baptist conventions and associations) is led by the Rev. Fred Phelps, and most followers are members of his extended family.
The church is best known for its controversial protests at the funerals of US soldiers killed in Iraq or Afghanistan as well as at the funerals of those who have died from conditions medically attributed to AIDS. A central point in the church’s protests is that Americans are being punished because the US tolerates homosexuality.
State and federal laws have been passed keeping such church picketers several hundred feet away from funerals. Motorcycle clubs and others have protested the Westboro protesters by gathering around military funeral sites with American flags. Military families have tried to sue Westboro on the grounds that protests featuring highly offensive signs (“Thank God for dead soldiers”) are not constitutionally-protected speech. In March, the US Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal from the father of a Marine killed in Iraq.
Westboro’s attitude toward Islam (as well as toward Roman Catholics, mainline Protestants, Mormons, and other religions) is similarly harsh. Phelps has described the Quran as a “300-page work of Satanic fiction.”
Although the church burned a Quran in Washington in 2008, it did not get much media attention. On its web site Friday, the church called Pastor Jones in Gainesville a “false prophet … bullied by sissy, intolerant rebels worldwide into cancelling plans to burn that blasphemous idol called the Koran.”
Westboro also declared that it “will burn the Koran and the doomed American flag at 12:00 p.m. on September 11, 2010 at Westboro Baptist Church.”
Meanwhile, in the latest development in Jones’s off-again-on-again pledge to burn copies of the Islamic holy book at his small central Florida church, he says he’s going to New York Saturday to meet with Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Sufi Muslim imam leading the effort to build an Islamic cultural center and mosque near the World Trade Center site known as “ground zero” for the terrorist attack nine years ago.
But Mr. Rauf says there’s no such scheduled meeting with Jones.
"I am prepared to consider meeting with anyone who is seriously committed to pursuing peace,” he said in a statement Friday. But, he added, “We have no such meeting planned at this time.”
And just to make it clear about the proposed Islamic center near ground zero, he said, “Our plans for the community center have not changed.”
Earlier, Rauf had suggested that he might not have chosen that location if he'd known what trouble it would cause but that to change now would play into the hands of Islamic radicals. But he’s also made it clear that he would not be pressured by threats.