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Published: Friday, 4/29/2011

Pastor says peace bond violated right to speak

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR

DEARBORN, Mich. -- The Rev. Terry Jones, the controversial Florida pastor planning a free-speech rally outside Dearborn City Hall Friday, said he went to jail here last week rather than pay a $1 bond because he felt his constitutional rights were violated.

"It was more or less a protest because we feel like the peace bond is nothing more than paying for freedom of speech," Mr. Jones told The Blade in a phone interview. He and his associate, the Rev. Wayne Sapp, posted bond a few hours later and were released.

Judge Mark Somers of Michigan's 19th District Court had imposed the dollar bond after a jury reached a verdict that Mr. Jones and Mr. Sapp were "likely to breach the peace."

Also as a condition of the bond, the judge said the two pastors could not go near the Islamic Center of America, the nation's largest mosque, where they had planned a "Stand Up America Now" rally against "radical Islam, Sharia, and jihad."

Prosecutors and city officials told Mr. Jones and Mr. Sapp that they could protest on any city sidewalk or in one of four previously designated "free speech zones" in Dearborn, a Detroit suburb of 98,000 with the largest Arab Muslim population in the nation. But the ministers opposed the restrictions, saying they believed they had a right to gather on public property.

Mr. Jones, pastor of Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., said Thursday that the free speech zones are "absolutely ridiculous."

"I don't believe there is any such thing as a free speech zone," he said. "We don't find that, of course, in the Constitution. It is not what our Founding Fathers had in mind. I think it's very dangerous territory to isolate where you can speak your mind and voice your opinion."

Mr. Jones questioned where government officials would draw the line on free speech zones. They could decide that there was too much traffic near one and reduce it to three, he said as an example. They could then find other reasons to cut it to two or even one area where citizens can speak freely.

"We feel those zones are very, very unconstitutional," he said, adding that his beliefs and last week's proceedings prompted the free speech rally Friday.

He welcomed the support of the Thomas More Law Center, which filed a court motion Wednesday on behalf of Mr. Jones and Mr. Sapp.

The ACLU of Michigan also filed a friend of the court brief in support of the pastors' First Amendment stance.

The Ann Arbor-based Thomas More Law Center said in a statement that although "Pastor Jones has a controversial message," Dearborn and Wayne County officials "trampled on his constitutional rights to free speech."

Richard Thompson, the center's president and chief counsel, said it was a "spectacle" to have "two American citizens … thrown in an American jail, by an American judge even though they had not committed a crime; nor had they been accused of committing a crime."

Mr. Jones and Mr. Sapp were tried under a rarely used Michigan law from 1846 requiring peace bonds for people who are likely to incite a riot or threaten such offenses as "noise," "a rout," or "an improper diversion."

Mr. Jones said he represented himself in court because he did not expect a "full-blown trial" last Friday and the attorneys he contacted said they needed more time to prepare for his case.

He said he had planned to protest radical Islam, not Islam itself, until the demonstration was called off because the trial went so long.

"We have tried to make it very clear that Muslims in our country as well as Christians or any religious group or non-religious group are protected under the First Amendment freedom to speak," Mr. Jones said. "They have the right to evangelize, to build a mosque. In no way are we protesting their rights or their religion. What we are protesting is that radical element, and jihad. And we are very concerned with Sharia law," the religious rule derived from the Qur'an.

Mr. Jones said he witnessed "the growth of radical Islam" while he lived in Europe for 30 years, and he sees the same pattern in the United States Friday.

"Everything is 'peace, peace'; everything is OK," he said. "But as they grow in numbers, they try to pressure the government, they try to implement Sharia. That is very clear in Europe and the same pattern is developing here. We are trying to speak out here before that happens."

Asked why he risked offending all Muslims, not just radicals, by burning a Qur'an last month at his church, Mr. Jones said there was a "longer story" behind that action.

The church held a mock trial of the Qur'an, with "Muslims or former Muslims" representing the Islamic holy book, he said. The trial was conducted in English and Arabic with "experts on both sides," he said.

Mr. Jones, who served as judge, pronounced the Qur'an guilty of leading people to commit "terrorist activities," "death, rape, and torture," and "promoting bigotry."

Once that verdict was reached, the punishment was mandatory, he said, and burning the Qur'an was decided in an Internet poll.

"It was done as part of the trial. You could see that it was not done out of hatred," Mr. Jones said. "There was no celebration, no party. It was simply the execution of the guilty."

Prosecutors pointed out that 20 people were killed in riots in Afghanistan after video of the Qur'an burning was shown on the Internet.

Mr. Jones said he is planning a series of Stand Up America Now rallies around the nation to "continue to raise the awareness of radical elements of Islam."

He said he would not go near the Islamic Center of America until his bond expires in three years and has said repeatedly that he will not burn a Qur'an in Dearborn.

Contact David Yonke at: dyonke@theblade.com or 419-724-6154.



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