Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who last year threatened to burn the Qur'an on the anniversary of 9/11, followed through on his threat this week when his church put the Islam holy book on trial and then burned it. In response, a riot broke out in Afghanistan in which at least 12 people have been killed, most of them workers with the United Nations. Jones had been repeatedly warned his actions could provoke a violent response. Religion News Service reports:
"Showing blatant disrespect for Muslims by burning their scriptures directly contradicts the example and spirit of Jesus, who taught us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves," said Galen Carey, director of government affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals.
"Those who burned the Quran do not represent the vast majority of Christians, who wish to live in peace and harmony with their neighbors."
The Rev. Welton C. Gaddy, president of the Washington-based Interfaith Alliance, called the riots an "unacceptable" response to the Quran burning, but said they show that actions in the U.S. can have consequences overseas.
The New York Times reports on the trial held by Jone's church:
Sitting in judgment was a jury of 12 members of Mr. Jones’s church, the Dove World Outreach Center. After listening to evidence and arguments from both sides, the jury pronounced the Koran guilty of five “crimes against humanity,” including the promotion of terrorist acts and “the death, rape and torture of people worldwide whose only crime is not being of the Islamic faith.”
Punishment was determined by the results of an online poll. Besides burning, the options included shredding, drowning and facing a firing squad. Mr. Jones, a nondenominational evangelical pastor, announced that voters had chosen to set fire to the book, according to a video of the proceedings.
Jones' "trial" took place shortly after U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-NY), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, held hearings of the loyalty of American Muslims. The hearings were criticized by religious leaders across the United States who feared King's true agenda is to whip up anti-Muslim hysteria as a tool to divide Americans on religious lines.
In response, the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, chaired by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, held hearings to examine civil rights violations perpetrated against Muslim Americans. Again, RNS reports:
Durbin's star witness was Thomas Perez, the Justice Department's assistant attorney general for civil rights. Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, a "steady stream of violence and discrimination" has targeted Muslims, Arabs, Sikhs and South Asians in the United States, he said.
Perez noted that the Justice Department passed a grim milestone last month when it secured a guilty plea from a man who torched a playground at a Texas mosque: He was the 50th defendant charged in a federal criminal case of post-Sept. 11 backlash.
Muslim complaints about workplace discrimination have increased 150 percent since Sept. 11, Perez said, but he and other witnesses seemed most upset by reports that many Muslim children are harassed at school — called "terrorists" and told to "go home."
"We have a growing docket of cases involving Muslim, Arab, Sikh and South Asian students," he said. Muslim students form the largest category of religious discrimination cases handled by the Department of Justice's education division, Perez added.
Threats to Muslim Americans are certainly real. Last week, the head of the right-wing American Family Association, Bryan Fischer, said that Muslims should not be granted First Amendment protections. Fischer said:
Islam has no fundamental First Amendment claims, for the simple reason that it was not written to protect the religion of Islam. Islam is entitled only to the religious liberty we extend to it out of courtesy. While there certainly ought to be a presumption of religious liberty for non-Christian religious traditions in America, the Founders were not writing a suicide pact when they wrote the First Amendment.
Our government has no obligation to allow a treasonous ideology to receive special protections in America, but this is exactly what the Democrats are trying to do right now with Islam.
From a constitutional point of view, Muslims have no First Amendment right to build mosques in America. They have that privilege at the moment, but it is a privilege that can be revoked if, as is in fact the case, Islam is a totalitarian ideology dedicated to the destruction of the United States. The Constitution, it bears repeating, is not a suicide pact. For Muslims, patriotism is not the last refuge of a scoundrel, but the First Amendment is.
Clearly, the killing of the United Nations personnel must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. There is no excuse for this kind of violence. At the same time, Jones must be held morally accountable for fanning the flames of hatred. Terry Jones, Peter King and Bryan Fischer seek to use religion to divide the people of the world during a time where we need reconciliation and peace. Their actions will only increase the likelihood of terrorism and violence, and put American soldiers and civilians at further risk. As people of faith, we must stand up against them and proclaim that the Beloved Community is the ideal we seek and reject efforts to divide humanity in the name of the Almighty.