April 24, 2011
By Nina Shea
Pastor Terry Jones and Assistant Pastor Wayne Sapp may be leaders of an obscure and failing micro-church, the Dove World Outreach Center, in Gainesville, Florida, but they are world class blasphemers against Islam. Earlier this month they applied for a permit to continue their public and provocative criticism of Islam — which this time was not to burn a Koran but to “peacefully … protest sharia and jihad” in front of the largest mosque in the United States, in the most Muslim area of the country. Not only was their protest, planned for last Friday, blocked by court order, but they were convicted by Michigan’s 19th District Court of being likely to breach the peace.
In March, the two pastors stirred international controversy and, in Afghanistan, lethal violence, by staging a Koran burning. On Friday, April 22, they had planned a two-man demonstration to protest “sharia and jihad” during the weekly prayer service outside the the Shiite Islamic Center of America, in Dearborn, Michigan. News of their application for a protest permit prompted at least four serious death threats against them from “metro Detroiters,” according to the police chief. They were told by authorities they would have to cover the costs of a massive security effort for their protest, amounting to $46,000. They refused and were promptly prosecuted on the afternoon of the 22nd. They were found guilty of intending to disturb the peace, ordered by the court to stay away from the Dearborn mosque for the next three years, and briefly jailed for refusing to pay the “peace bond,” to ensure there would be no public disturbance — a bond that the prosecutor had requested to be set at $46,000 but which the court had reduced to $1. It appears that the jury, judge, prosecutor and police chief, all feared that the planned protest would set off local Muslim riots or other violent actions.
Pastor Jones and Sapp are unsympathetic figures. Their anti-Muslim antics over the past seven months, when they first threatened to burn the Islamic holy book, have seemed designed as much to grab media attention for themselves as to deliberately insult Muslims. But the First Amendment’s broad protections for free speech have been defined by court cases revolving around all manner of unpopular speech and bigotry— from Ku Klux Klan leaders, Nazis, other racists and, most recently, anti-gay activists in a case involving protests at the funerals of fallen American soldiers. Islam would be given deferential treatment if this decision is allowed to stand.